Top palm oil buyer India's Feb imports fall to 8-month low, say dealers

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers purchase packets of vegetable oil at a supermarket in Mumbai

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's February palm oil imports dropped 30% from January to their lowest in 8 months as refiners preferred to lower their stocks as inventories piled up following excessive imports during October-January, five dealers told Reuters on Thursday.

The reduction in palm oil imports by India, the world's biggest importer of vegetable oils, could weigh on Malaysian palm oil prices.

India's palm oil imports fell to 586,000 tonnes last month, the lowest since June 2022, according to the average of the estimates from the five dealers.

The country's palm oil imports during October to January were robust, but demand was weak, which forced refiners to curtail buying in February, Rajesh Patel, managing partner at GGN Research, said.

Soyoil imports in February eased 7.3% from January to 340,000 tonnes, while those of sunflower oil dropped 67% to 150,000 tonnes from record high imports in January, the dealers said.

India buys palm oil mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. It imports soybean and sunflower oil from Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.

Palm oil was struggling to compete last month as its discount to soyoil and sunflower oil shrank to around $200 per tonne from as high as $500 in the December quarter, a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trade house said.

But India's recent moves to discontinue duty free imports of sunflower oil and soyoil could support palm oil in coming months, said Sandeep Bajoria, chief executive of Sunvin Group, a vegetable oil brokerage and consultancy firm.

India on Wednesday decided to scrap a duty-free import quota of 2 million tonnes of crude sunflower oil for the next fiscal year starting from April 1.

The move could lead to higher imports of palm oil, which was earlier attracting taxes even as imports of sunflower oil and soyoil were allowed without any taxes under the quota.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)