Iraq will become China's second-largest supplier in 2014 if it succeeds in exporting the volume of crude it has committed to supply. Chinese firms have signed up for 882,000 bpd of Iraqi crude in 2014, up 68 percent from 2013.
A steep cut in prices for its main export crude Basra Light helped Iraq pass Iran to become China's fifth-largest supplier in 2013. Iraq has charged buyers a discount between 40 cents and $1.10 a barrel below Saudi's Arab Medium, down from premiums to the Saudi grade a year ago, according to Reuters data.
Besides price cuts, Iraq also compensated some of its term customers for demurrage - shipping costs incurred while waiting to load crude at congested terminals, trade sources said.
Other Gulf neighbours have also ceded market share to Iraq. Baghdad wrested a supply contract for a new refinery in China away from Kuwait in early November.
Iraq should be wary of price competition, said one Kuwaiti source, since the country needed to secure money for long term development. "They may gain share in the short term but they should look at the long term," said the Kuwaiti oil source.
Kuwait has, however, been forced to cut prices itself, valuing its export crude in December at the steepest discount in nearly four years to Saudi's Arab Medium, Reuters data showed.
Kuwait may also follow Iraq and Iran's lead in offering extended credit to Indian refiners.
In the United Arab Emirates, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) has made an unprecedented move to encourage more buyers by selling cargoes with no stipulated destination for the first time in 2014.
ADNOC is also offering its customers the flexibility to load oil from the UAE's Fujairah port, which is outside the Strait of Hormuz and cheaper for shippers than sailing through the strait to the oil port of Jebel Dhanna.
The stakes are high for exporters reliant on oil revenues to finance growing national budgets. They have to find a balance between retaining market share and steady income.
Despite more aggressive sales tactics, OPEC is likely to see its market share fall. In its annual oil outlook, the group said it could lose almost 8 percent of the market in the next five years to shale and other competing supply sources.
"The current oil price is at a level that producing countries want to maintain," said a trader with a Chinese refiner. "But the market is long