India's palm oil imports in May plunged 53% from a year ago to 387,006 tonnes as a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus cut demand from hotels and restaurants, a leading trade body said on Thursday.
Lower imports by India, the world's biggest importer of edible oil, could put pressure on Malaysian palm oil prices.
The country's imports of soyoil also fell in May to 187,034 tonnes from 232,003 tonnes a year ago, while sunflower oil imports edged up 2% to 133,438 tonnes, provisional data published by the Solvent Extractors Association of India showed.
The drop in palm oil purchases, which usually account for two-thirds of the total imports, brought down India's edible oil imports by 40% to 707,478 tonnes in May, the lowest imports for the month since 2011, the SEA said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has extended a lockdown, begun on March 25, to June 30, but has allowed some restaurants, malls and religious buildings to reopen from June 8, despite a record high number of cases detected nationwide.
India's imports fell sharply in the last three months and brought down inventories, which will prompt refiners to raise imports from June onwards, B.V. Mehta, executive director of the SEA, said.
"In June imports could rise above 900,000 tonnes and from July it could be more than 1 million tonnes," he said.
India primarily imports palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia and soyoil from Argentina and Brazil. It also buys sunflower oil from Ukraine and small volumes of canola oil from Canada.
The country's edible oil imports in the first seven months of the 2019/20 marketing year ending on Oct. 31, have dropped 18% from a year ago to 6.9 million tonnes, the SEA said.