* Unwrought aluminium products top 120,000 T in March
* Volume is highest import level since Dec 2013 (Adds graphic, background on bauxite)
BEIJING, April 23 (Reuters) - China’s aluminium imports more than tripled in March from a year earlier, customs data released on Thursday showed, hitting their highest in more than six years, while incoming shipments of raw material bauxite fell.
Imports of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products came in at 121,025 tonnes last month, compared with 35,420 tonnes in March 2019, the General Administration of Customs said. The intake volume last month was the highest since China imported 125,180 tonnes in December 2013.
China is by far the world’s biggest producer and exporter of aluminium, used in everything from cars to cans, and it rarely imports large volumes of the metal. It exported almost 520,000 tonnes of aluminium overseas in March, data released in mid April showed, down 5% from a year earlier.
It was not immediately clear what caused the jump in imports. One trader said that with overseas demand weak because of pandemic-related disruptions, holders of the metal were seeking to find a home for their aluminium in top consumer China, where demand is starting to recover.
Also, China’s scrap supply of aluminium has been tight since the Lunar New Year holiday in late January as the coronavirus curbs stalled local collection activity, increasing the call on primary aluminium.
First-quarter aluminium imports stood at 302,580 tonnes, 2-1/2 times the incoming shipments of the same period last year.
The customs data did not break down the origins of the imported aluminium but detailed data is scheduled to be released on Saturday.
China’s imports of bauxite, the main ore source of aluminium and which has to be first refined into alumina, were down 10.1% from a year earlier in March, the customs data showed.
It gave a figure of 90,000 tonnes for March arrivals, although year-ago levels were around 9 million tonnes, according to the online customs database. It was not immediately clear why there was such a discrepancy.
China’s General Administration of Customs said last month in its final trade data bulletin it would stop including alumina imports. Alumina exports in March were up 88.2% year-on-year at 10,000 tonnes.
Reporting by Tom Daly; additional reporting by Mai Nguyen in Singapore; editing by Tom Hogue and Barbara Lewis