-Sinopec exec@ (Adds background and details in paragraphs 3 and 5-8)
BEIJING, July 25 (Reuters) - China's crude oil imports will exceed 400 million tonnes this year, said an executive at a Chinese state oil giant on Tuesday, as continuing low oil prices and declining domestic output sparked increased overseas purchases.
China's crude imports are also expected to grow by double digits in 2018, Zhang Haichao, vice president of Sinopec Group, told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Beijing on Tuesday.
Zhang's estimates mean Chinese demand for imported crude would grow by around 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year, which would likely make China the world's largest crude oil importer on an annual basis for the first time ever.
For the first six months of 2017, China imported 212 million tonnes of crude, or 8.55 million bpd, up nearly 14 percent from the same period in 2016, according to customs data.
China's crude oil imports have grown this year amid concerns over tightening crude supply in Asia as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other producers extended production cuts to March 2018.
Zhang's expectation of strong Chinese demand for imports holding through the rest of the year comes despite plans by state oil majors to shut down 10 percent of China's refining capacity in the third quarter due to a glut of fuel products.
Beijing last month, however, issued a second batch of crude import quotas, making this year's total higher than last year's amount, helping to underpin the nation's demand.
Zhang was attending a joint conference hosted by Sinopec Corp trading arm Unipec and the China Chamber of Commerce for Petroleum Industry.
(Reporting by Tom Daly; Writing by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue)