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MELBOURNE, May 23 (Reuters) - China's imports of refined copper in April slid by 41 percent from a year ago, trade data showed on Tuesday, as traders found their buying power crimped by tighter access to credit.
Refined copper imports fell to 202,645 tonnes last month, the lowest since February, and were down by 18 percent from March's levels.
For the January to April period, China's refined copper imports have slumped by 31 percent from last year, partly after China raised short-term interest rates and banks became more reluctant to lend, traders and analysts said.
"In general, metals traders have been suffering from rising financing costs, fierce competition and a slowing economy," said JP Morgan in a report.
"While Chinese banks have anecdotally been maintaining existing credit lines for metals-based companies, it has become increasingly hard to get approval for new lines of credit."
China has raised short-term interest rates after its top leadership identified the containment of financial risks and asset bubbles as a top priority this year.
China continued to import more copper scrap, with imports in the first four months of the year up 18 percent, after a surge in prices late last year encouraged a flood of scrap metal back into the market.
Copper concentrate imports also continued to grow in April, up 7.7 percent from a year ago and in line with the year's trend. A small decline in Chilean output, after a strike earlier this year, was more than offset by a nearly 60 percent jump in imports from Peru.
China's exports of refined copper fell in April from the same month year earlier, but at nearly 125,000 tonnes are up 65 percent year to date.
Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Christian Schmollinger