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UPDATE 2-China H1 meat imports up 73.5% - customs

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BEIJING, July 14 (Reuters) - China imported 4.75 million tonnes of meat including offal in the first six months of the year, customs data showed on Tuesday, up 73.5% on the same period a year ago.

Chinese buyers boosted overseas meat purchases after a collapse in domestic pork production caused by an epidemic of African swine fever that has swept the country since 2018.

China imported 896,000 tonnes of meat including offal in June, the data from the General Administration of Customs showed, up 9.8% from 813,000 tonnes in May. Customs did not provide comparable year-ago June meat import figures.

“It’s a surprisingly big number. Live hog prices dropped quite a bit during May so I thought that would reduce (meat) imports a bit but that didn’t happen,” Darin Friedrichs, senior analyst at StoneX said after the data was released.

He added that he expects a sizeable drop in meat imports in July with the logistical issues due to additional testing for coronavirus in imported meats.

Imports are expected to fall in coming months after China started testing containers of frozen food for the presence of the coronavirus, slowing trade.

In a separate statement, customs said, China’s January to June pork imports were up 140% at 2.12 million tonnes while beef imports rose 42.9% at 997,000 tonnes. Customs did not give a breakdown of June pork and beef imports.

China’s imports of pork meat alone in March, April and May have been around 400,000 tonnes each month, double the level of previous records.

It has also suspended imports from more than 20 overseas suppliers after coronavirus outbreaks among workers.

Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; additional reporting and writing by Shivani Singh; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Michael Perry

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