Yasushi Kimura, the chairman of Japan's JX Nippon Oil & Energy, the country's largest crude refiner, said that the company has renewed its annual contract with Iran starting from January 2014. Kimura said that the confirmation of renewing Iran's annual crude import contract marked the first among Japanese buyers of Iranian oil for 2014 import contracts, the Platts reported. Refiners Showa Shell, Cosmo Oil and Idemitsu Kosan also have annual crude import contracts with Iran, expiring at the end of March. "We have concluded our annual contract starting from January," Kimura said on the sidelines of a reception in Tokyo hosted by the Petroleum Association of Japan, of which he is president. Until December 2012, the company had an annual contract to import 80,000 barrel per day (bpd) of Iranian crude. Like Iran's other customers in Japan, JX continues to buy Iranian crude under exemption from US sanctions that would otherwise bar Japanese banks from the US financial system. Kimura said, "Japan and Iran are maintaining their relationship as in the past." "By maintaining a good relationship (with Iran), I am hoping to see a new framework when situations develop into the next stage," Kimura said. In the meantime, according to industrial sources, Iran's customers in Japan and South Korea are seeking to maintain their current import levels going into 2014.