China’s long-heralded crude oil futures contract will begin trading on March 26 as the world’s second-largest economy starts to gain pricing power over the commodity. The China Securities Regulatory Commission announced after the market closed on Friday that the official launch would take place at the Shanghai International Energy Exchange, the mainland’s first commodity futures venue that allows foreign players to participate in trading. The launch date is in line with market speculation and comes after a six-year wait for the yuan-denominated contract. “Crude oil futures is the most important commodity contract on China’s futures market,” said Huang Lei, a commodity futures analyst. “It was not easy to design and create a complete system in a new market.” The new contract could technically challenge the dominance of the current global benchmarks, including the Intercontinental Exchange’s London-based Brent crude oil contract and the New York Mercantile Exchange’s West Texas Intermediate. But the Shanghai Futures Exchange, parent of the International Energy Exchange, played down talk of any rivalry. The exchange said in a statement that the launch of crude oil futures contract represents “a new attempt to fully open the market,” adding that it would be a long and gradual process before the contract plays a big role in the national economy. China aims for pricing power in launching crude oil futures Crude oil sold in Asia is mainly priced against the Dubai, Oman and dated Brent benchmarks or Oman crude futures on the Dubai Mercantile Exchange. The exchange said China’s crude contract aims to offer companies in the real economy a hedging tool which can better reflect market conditions in the Asia-Pacific region. It also pledged to conduct tight regulatory oversight of trading. A total of 149 firms have been accepted by the exchange to offer services to crude oil futures traders, but it did not say how many foreign oil firms and investors were registered to trade the contract. Sources have said that ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell may be among those taking part in trading. The exchange was established in the Shanghai free-trade zone in 2013 with a 5 billion yuan (US$793.7 million) investment. China, the world’s biggest net importer of crude oil, imported 420 million tonnes of the commodity in 2017.