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Trade concerns resurface to push oil prices lower

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The price of oil was lower Thursday after volleys of fire in the U.S.-Chinese trade dispute, one day after a major spike caused by a drain on U.S. oil supplies.

Brent crude oil ended the trading day Wednesday up 2.96 percent after the U.S. government reported a bigger drain on domestic crude oil inventories. The supply-side strain was compounded by lingering fears about the loss of oil from Iran, one of the largest producers in the Organization of Exporting Countries, due to U.S. sanctions.

Supply-side strains this year have been offset by concerns about U.S. trade disputes in North America, Europe and China. Of those, the Chinese trade row is perhaps the most impactful as it involves two of the world's largest economies.

An op-ed published by China's official Xinhua News Agency on Wednesday said "the ball is in Washington's court" as both sides prepare for bilateral trade talks. Warning of the spillover impact for the U.S. economy because of higher tariffs on imported goods, Xinhua's editorial said trade wars are a zero-sum game.

China on Thursday said it imposed a 25 percent duty on U.S. import and lodged a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

"China firmly opposes (U.S. trade action) and has to once again take necessary countermeasures," a statement published in Xinhua read.

Escalating trade disputes run the risk of undermining global economic growth. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark for the price of oil, was down 0.53 percent as of 9:25 a.m. EDT to $74.38 per barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, was down 0.49 percent to $67.53 per barrel.

On the Iranian issue, the European Commission on Thursday announced the first tranche of a financial package meant to support the economy for an Islamic republic facing mounting U.S. sanctions pressure. The commission said the support scheme was a sign of its commitment to save the U.N.-backed nuclear deal that lets Iranian oil flow on the market, though that support is complicated by U.S. sanctions on financial channels.

Elsewhere, U.S. labor figures continued to show signs of improvements. The U.S. Labor Department showed the four-week average for first-time claims of unemployment dropped 1,750 from the previous week to 213,750.
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