(Bloomberg) -- Aramco Trading Co. sold its first shipment of West African crude, underscoring the Saudi Arabian oil giant’s expansion ambitions for its trading arm.

The company assigned a million-barrel cargo of Equatorial Guinea’s Zafiro crude for early June loading to Exxon Mobil Corp., according to traders with knowledge of the matter. The shipment will be processed by Exxon’s own refining system in Europe, they said.

Saudi Aramco -- which is the world’s biggest oil exporting company -- is breaking into the new market just as buyers are clamoring for replacements for Russian barrels. West African crude is just one alternative to Russian supplies and is proving attractive because it is less sulfurous and dense than oil from the Middle East.

The Saudi giant has made inroads in recent months into Russia’s backyard with deals to supply Danish and Polish refiners, helping European countries wean themselves off Russian oil. Aramco Trading, which has been targeting volumes of 6 million barrels a day, is trading more third-party crude, barrels not pumped in Saudi Arabia. The company often processes those barrels in non-Saudi refineries and buys back the products for sale elsewhere.

Aramco Trading didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aramco is considering an initial public offering of the trading unit, which competes with similar divisions at the likes of Shell Plc, BP Plc and TotalEnergies SE, in what could be one of the world’s biggest listings this year. 

Established in Saudi Arabia in 2011, the trading arm initially focused on downstream output like refined products before expanding into crude and adding offices in Fujairah, London and Singapore, according to the company’s website. Aramco, which recently became the world’s most valuable company, could sell a 30% stake in the division, people with knowledge of the matter said this week.

Other major oil producers have mostly kept their trading units under wraps, wary of revealing the secrets of a significant source of profit. Energy companies in the Middle East have been taking advantage of a surge in oil prices to list assets as their governments seek to reduce their reliance on oil and draw in foreign investors. 


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