China's yuan-based system for oil futures is finally on its way. Photo: Reuters
China's yuan-based system for oil futures is finally on its way. Photo: Reuters

China’s big play to challenge dollar-denominated crude oil futures has been formally approved, marking another milestone in Beijing’s efforts to take a more prominent role on the world stage.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) announced the move on Friday, Chinese news outlet 21st Century Business Herald reports, with trading on the Shanghai International Energy Exchange set to begin on March 26.

Ahead of the announcement, CSRC vice chairman Jiang Yang said that the move aims to welcome domestic and international investors and satisfy the demand for risk management of international and domestic businesses and investors alike.

China dethroned the US as the world’s biggest importer of crude oil last year.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, if the yuan futures market attracts liquidity it will produce oil prices more closely linked to supply and demand in the Chinese market. One measure of the new contract’s success will be whether it actually threatens the dominance of the large global benchmarks such as Brent. Oil sold in Asia is now priced mainly against Brent, as well as against the Dubai and Oman benchmarks.

Overseas observers played down the significance, but acknowledged it is a material step towards reshaping markets down the road.

“This is a first small step toward China becoming a more active price setter in oil, but for Shanghai to come anything close to a global benchmark, it will take years,” Michal Meidan, an analyst at industry consultant Energy Aspects Ltd., was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. “While this gives another impetus to liberalise the yuan, there are bigger obstacles related to volatility and capital outflows that will dictate the pace.”

Despite the reported skepticism from abroad, Chinese investors will no doubt embrace the domestic futures market enthusiastically, Bloomberg reports, citing the explosion in trading across the nation’s three commodity exchanges.

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