LONDON - China's diesel exports rose for a second month in December, while gasoline exports climbed for a third month, as the country's COVID outbreak limited domestic fuel demand, and refiners utilised their expanded yearly export quotas.

China exported 2.79 million tonnes of diesel in December, representing a 32.8% increase on November's 2.10 million tonnes, data from the General Administration of Customs showed on Wednesday. That is the highest since March 2021.

Total diesel exports for the year amounted to 10.92 million tonnes, versus 17.21 million tonnes for 2021. Gasoline exports were 1.91 million tonnes in December, the highest since October 2020, and up from 1.49 million tonnes the month before.

Total gasoline exports for 2022 stood at 12.56 million tonnes, versus 14.54 million tonnes in 2021. Refiners continue to offload inventory abroad to make full use of their yearly export quotas after a year in which COVID-19 restrictions have choked domestic fuel demand.

Though domestic travel initially picked up after restrictions were abruptly eased at the end of November, the subsequent nationwide surge in COVID cases in December dampened domestic consumer and industrial fuel demand as people stayed home to avoid infection.

To stimulate the pandemic-battered economy, the government issued an additional 13.25 million tonnes of export quota for diesel, gasoline and jet fuel, taking the total 2022 quota to 37.25 million tonnes, even with 2021's quota.

The government recently announced its first refined product export quota for 2023 at around 19 million tonnes as it seeks to further help demand. However, road traffic volumes in some large cities are appearing to increase.

Domestic consumption of refined products, such as petrol and kerosene, is expected to pick up through the Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 21, with millions of Chinese expected to travel for the week-long holiday. 

(Reporting by Andrew Hayley; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)