* March imports up 11 pct to 95.56 mln tonnes -China customs
* Imports to stay at high level or even grow - Fortescue CEO (Recasts with March figures, industry comment, copper imports)
BEIJING, April 13 (Reuters) - China’s March iron ore imports rose 11 percent from the same month a year earlier to the second-highest monthly amount on record as the world’s second-biggest economy ramped up a drive for cheap overseas supply as the cost of domestic output grew.
Imports last month were 95.56 million tonnes, according to data from the General Administration of Customs on Thursday - a fraction below the monthly record of 96.27 million tonnes imported in December 2015.
For the first quarter of the year, imports grew 12 percent to 271 million tonnes, customs said. That is a quarterly record.
“We have seen the follow-through on new supply coming on to the market in seaborne iron ore, and there is still more supply to come, which will replace higher cost (Chinese) production,” said Nev Power, chief executive of Australia’s Fortescue Metals Group, the world’s fourth-largest exporter of iron ore.
“Imported iron ore to China will continue at the levels we are seeing now, or perhaps even grow as we go forward,” said Power, when asked about the data during a media call on Fortescue’s quarterly production.
Imports of industrial metals also surged in March as Chinese businesses stocked up on supply ahead of a seasonally strong period for manufacturing.
China imported 430,000 tonnes of copper and semi-manufactured copper products in March, the highest since March 2016, and up 27 percent from a month ago, the data showed. Strong imports are expected to continue through April as manufacturing business keep machinery humming at a brisk pace.
For the first quarter as a whole, though, copper imports were down 20 percent from a year ago at 1.15 million tonnes.
“We have been seeing exchange inventories going down, so we are not surprised about the March import recovery,” said Helen Lau, an analyst at Argonaut Securities.
“For fabricators, perhaps they are looking at the short supply of copper concentrate, and choosing to import more metal now. For sure, this trend will extend into April but for May we will need to wait and see.”
Meanwhile China’s aluminium products exports surged to 410,000 tonnes from 260,000 tonnes in February.
For more details, click on (Reporting by Chen Yawen and Beijing monitoring team; Additional reporting by Jim Regan in SYDNEY and Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Christian Schmollinger)