* Boosted by ramp up of flexible volumes from U.S. and Russia
* Qatar's market share of spot supply shrinks, Australia's grows
* LNG market to reach tipping point this year
SINGAPORE, April 1 (Reuters) - Spot trades and other short-term deals are making up more of the transactions in the global liquefied natural gas (LNG) market as producers in the United States and Russia offer more flexible volumes and traders increasingly handle cargoes.
Spot and short-term LNG trades, defined as cargoes delivered through contracts of four years or less, made up 32 percent of overall import volumes in 2018, up from 27 percent of imports in 2017, the Paris-based International Group of LNG Importers (GIIGNL) said on Monday in its annual report.
Cargoes delivered in less than three months from the transaction date increased to 25 percent of the market in 2018, compared with 20 percent in 2017, the GIIGNL said.
"For LNG importers, long-term partnerships, destination and volume flexibility as well as the ability to optimize or arbitrage between Asian and European markets remain key," said GIIGNL President Jean-Marie Dauger in an emailed statement.
"In China, in India and South East Asia, in particular, LNG's environmental benefits and its versatility make it particularly attractive as a destination fuel for thermal power generation and cogeneration, in the industrial and commercial sectors as well as in a growing variety of fields like marine and road transportation."
Australia was the biggest exporter of spot and short-term volumes in 2018 as new projects in the country started up, followed by the United States and Qatar, the GIIGNL said.
Qatar's share of spot volumes dropped to 12 percent from 20 percent as it lost its position as the leading supplier of flexible volumes, the group said.
The three biggest LNG importing countries - Japan, China and South Korea - absorbed just over half of the global spot volumes traded, while India's spot purchases increased as its natural gas demand growth exceeded domestic production, the group said.
Re-exports also increased due to better arbitrage opportunities.
Overall, the global LNG market grew by 8.3 percent from the previous year to nearly 314 million tonnes in 2018, more than three times the size of the market in 2000, GIIGNL said.
That was the third-largest annual increase after 2010 and 2017.
The market is likely to reach a tipping point this year, with many long-term contracts starting to expire and as new supply comes on stream, Dauger said, adding that the industry needs to become more innovative and efficient in trading.
GIIGNL has 81 member companies headquartered in 26 countries and handles more than 90 percent of global LNG imports. (Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan; editing by Christian Schmollinger)