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Japan says sharing oil reserves an option for Asia

Sharing oil reserves among Asian nations could be an option for countries in the region if crude prices stay high, Japanese Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa said on Tuesday as oil soared to a record above $50 a barrel.

"I have been discussing with officials from ASEAN and East Asia about building an oil stockpile since around May and June, although that remains just a discussion," Nakagawa, who kept his post in a cabinet reshuffle on Monday, told a group of reporters.

"For now we could consider sharing oil reserves," he added.

In June, Japan said it would help finance a study into building an emergency oil stockpile in South East Asia, a measure Tokyo considers vital for supply security as Asia's energy demand grows.

Tokyo has long been advocating action by other Asian countries to safeguard supplies, worried that it may be called on to help its neighbours in times of a severe disruption.

Nakagawa noted that Japan had the largest oil stockpile in the region, equivalent to about 70 to 80 days consumption, and that Japan would consider sharing in times of need.

"Nothing has been decided but if the situation gets much worse we should consider various options including this one," Nakagawa said when asked Japan would consider sharing its oil.

However, he said the impact of the recent rise in oil prices on Japan was not as serious as during oil shock in the 1970s, thanks to a stronger yen and improved energy efficiency.

Economists say that although Japan depends almost entirely on imports for its oil, the economy has become more resilient to high fuel costs than in the past.

Japan consumes only half as much oil as the United States on a per capita basis and even less relative to the size of its economy.

Oil prices soared to a new record above $50 a barrel on Tuesday as Nigeria emerged as the latest focus for worries about supply in an already tight worldwide energy market.

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