* Indian buying slides back from close to three-year high
* Chinese purchases fall to 8-month low on bpd basis
* Total WAF loadings for Asia fall by 11 pct
* Graphic on oil exports to Asia: http://tmsnrt.rs/2dG0SuJ
LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - China's loadings of West African crude oil are set to slip to an 8-month low in March as stiff competition and shaky demand have forced sellers to look to other regions, a Reuters survey of vessel fixtures and traders showed on Wednesday. The loadings of just over 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) are the lowest since July last year, when loadings hit 1.04 million bpd. It is also sharply lower than the peak this year in January, when loadings hit 1.59 million bpd. The decline pulled overall West African exports 11 percent lower on the month to 1.93 million bpd. "On the whole, demand is weaker than earlier this year. Refinery maintenance has started and stock levels are relatively high," said Ehsan Ul-Haq, director at London-based consultancy Resource Economics. Rising exports from the United States mean those selling the nation's crude have begun targeting China, joining in competition from Middle Eastern, North Sea and West African crudes. This has made keeping market share a constant challenge.
Additionally, China's independent refineries, commonly known as "teapots", are grappling with tax rules that took effect on March 1 and aim to crack down on alleged illicit trade of invoices and tax evasion. The rule change, Ul-Haq said, could crimp the demand for crude from the refineries. "Runs in teapot refineries are down significantly, leading to lower demand in China. The new consumption tax introduced by the Chinese government also does not bode well for independent refiners." Traders and analysts told Reuters that sellers of Angolan oil, the primary West African supplier to China, had placed more March-loading cargoes with U.S. and European buyers, helping to keep differentials supported despite the weaker Asian interest. Indian loadings from West Africa were also set to fall in March from close to a three-year high in February. A wide spread between Brent and Dubai crude, which is making it harder for West African cargoes to compete in Asia, hurt sales. But maintenance maintenance at Indian Oil Corp's top refinery, the 300,000 bpd Paradip refinery, was also a factor.
COUNTRY March BPD February BPD cargoes '000s cargoes '000s CHINA 36 1,103 36 1,221 INDIA 17 521 23 780 INDONESIA 4 123 2 68 TAIWAN 1 31 1 34 JAPAN 0 0 0 S. KOREA 1 31 0 0 OTHERS 4 123 2 68 TOTAL 63 1,931 64 2,171
(Reporting by Libby George Editing by Mark Heinrich)