20/05/2009 (Reuters), Islamabad - Pakistan's imports of palm oil products fell up to 20 percent in April and May on good stocks and easing demand but will pick up next month and in the run-up to the Muslim fasting month, an industry official said on Wednesday.
Carryover stock from over-buying in the January-March quarter, low intake in rural areas during the wheat harvesting season, and cheap supplies of canola oil squeezed demand for palm oil, said Rasheed Janmohammad, vice-chairman of the Pakistan Edible Oil Refiners Association.
"Because of this, there was between a 15 and 20 percent reduction in the import of palm oil, palm olien and crude palm oil in April and May," Janmohammad told Reuters.
Pakistan, the world's fourth-largest importer of vegetable oil, imports a mix of refined and crude palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's biggest producers.
It consumes about 3 million tonnes of edible oils a year, but produces only 500,000-800,000 tonnes of cottonseed, rapeseed and sunflower, relying on imports to meet about 80 percent of demand.
Pakistani traders went on a buying spree early this year after sharp price swings last year prompted them to delay purchases.
The country imported 166,140 tonnes of palm oil in February and 158,880 tonnes in January, according to official data. Official figures for March and April imports were not available.
Janmohammad said Pakistan had imported or ordered 780,000 tonnes of canola and sunflower oilseeds for the January to July period, at good prices and for the first time canola oil was cheaper in Pakistan than palm olien.
On Tuesday, canola oil was 88,500 rupees ($1,097) a tonne in the domestic market, compared with 91,700 rupees a tonne for palm olien, according to Janmohammad.
"So there is a huge arrival of canola oilseed and most of the ghee industry is buying canola oil ... There is less demand for palm olien," he said.
But imports of palm oil products are likely to pick up from next month.
"Pakistan remains completely uncovered from June onwards," Janmohammad said.
"We feel that as the month of Ramadan starts in the third week of August, Pakistan needs to buy reasonable tonnage for mid-June/mid-July," he said.
Demand tends to rise in the Islamic country of 160 million people during the Muslim fasting month, with people consuming more fried food when they break their fast after sunset.
Oils For Cooking