UPDATE 1-China Dec rubber imports hit record peak on higher Thai shipments

Thu Jan 9, 2014 10:46pm EST

* Dec rubber imports hit peak on lower Thai prices

* Thailand temporarily scrapped export duty to appease farmers

* Stock build-up leads to record inventory (Adds comment, details)

BEIJING, Jan 10 (Reuters) - China, the world's largest user of rubber, imported a record 350,000 tonnes of the material in December, a nearly 67-percent year-on-year surge as traders snapped up shipments from Thailand after it removed an export tax.

Imports for 2013 hit 2.47 million tonnes, a 13.5-percent rise from 2.18 million in 2012.

China accounts for about 35 percent of global rubber consumption, with most going to its tyre-making industry.

The country's imports soared in the final months of the year, after top exporting country Thailand temporarily canned an export duty on rubber in September until year-end to appease farmers.

That lifted China's monthly imports from the southeast Asian nation to more than 1 million tonnes in both October and November. A country breakdown for December is not yet available.

Lower than usual international prices in December also spurred Chinese imports, said Quan Shuwen, senior analyst at Dongwu Futures.

November imports rose 24 percent from the month before to 269,000 tonnes, while December imports saw a further 29.6-percent jump.

The end of year surge in imports was also underpinned by traders' expectations of state reserve buying. The reserves bought about 230,000 tonnes of both Thai grade and domestic rubber in the second half of the year.

Domestic demand has been relatively strong this year, added Song Chao, analyst at Tianma Futures.

"The auto industry is recovering," he said.

Chinese vehicle sales rose nearly 14 percent during the year, the highest in three years.

Yet not all of the strong end-of-year imports will be consumed, with much going into warehouses. Current stocks of nearly 300,000 tonnes of rubber at the country's bonded warehouses are at record levels.

China's rubber demand was forecast at 4.15 million tonnes in 2013, up 8.2 percent year-on-year, according to the Association of Natural Rubber Producing Countries, although domestic output was also estimated to grow, reaching 864,000 tonnes, up 9.2 percent. (Reporting by Dominique Patton and Niu Shuping; Editing by Joseph Radford)