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India's August palm oil imports drop 14% as virus hits demand - trade body

FILE PHOTO: A man loads empty containers of edible oil onto a tricycle at a roadside in Kolkata, India, August 27, 2015. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/File photo

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India’s palm oil imports in August dropped 13.9% from a year earlier to 734,351 tonnes, a leading trade body said on Friday, due to a sluggish recovery in demand from hotels and restaurants as local coronavirus cases continued to rise.

The country’s soyoil imports dropped 10.4% year-on-year to 394,735 tonnes last month, while sunflower oil imports fell 31% to 158,518 tonnes, the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA) said in a statement.

India is the world’s biggest importer of edible oils and lower purchases could put downward pressure on Malaysian palm oil prices and U.S. soyoil prices.

Palm oil is mainly consumed by hotels and restaurants, which gradually began reopening from June after a nationwide coronavirus lockdown imposed in March. Palm oil sales picked up pace in July, but demand waned in August due to the spike in coronavirus cases in the world’s second most populous country.

India buys palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia and other oils, such as soyoil and sunflower oil, from Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Russia.

Lower imports of palm oil and soyoil pushed India’s total edible oil imports in August down 14% year-on-year to 1.37 million tonnes, the SEA said.

In the first 10 months of the 2019-20 marketing year that started in November, India’s edible oil imports fell 13% to 11.2 million tonnes, the SEA said.

India’s overall edible oil imports may drop by 1.4-1.5 million tonnes to 13.4-13.5 million tonnes in the current oil year to October 2020, down from previous year’s total purchases of 14.9 million tonnes, said B.V. Mehta, executive director of the SEA.

India imposed restrictions on imports of refined palm oil and palmolein in January and later suspended 39 licences to import refined palm from neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Bangladesh.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Rashmi Aich