By Rajendra Jadhav
MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's palm oil imports in July rose 1.4% from a year earlier to a 10-month high of 824,078 tonnes as a gradual easing of COVID-19 lockdowns increased demand at hotels and restaurants, a leading trade body said on Friday.
The south Asian country is the world's biggest importer of edible oils and higher purchases could support Malaysian palm oil prices and U.S. soyoil prices.
The country's soyoil imports in July surged 52% from a year ago to 484,525 tonnes, while sunflower oil imports rose 4% to 208,747 tonnes, the Solvent Extractors' Association of India (SEA) said in a statement.
Palm oil is mainly consumed by hotels and restaurants, which restarted operations from June onwards and picked up pace in July, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading house.
India buys palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia, and other oils, such as soyoil and sunflower oil, from Argentina, Brazil, Ukraine and Russia.
Higher imports of palm oil and soyoil lifted India's edible oil imports in July by 13% from a year ago to 1.52 million tonnes, the highest in 11-months, the SEA said.
Edible oil stockpiles had reduced drastically due to lower imports from March to May and that prompted refiners to increase imports in July, said B.V. Mehta, executive director of the SEA.
In the first nine months of the 2019-20 marketing year that started in November last year, India's edible oil imports fell 11.4% from a year earlier due to a sharp drop in imports of refined palm oil, the SEA said.
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 Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)