(Adds comment, detail, background)
* Mills curb output, importers clear customs before early Oct
* Iron ore imports at 79.49 mln T in Oct
* Jan-Oct iron ore imports up 6.3 pct to 896 mln T
* Steel exports at 4.98 mln, lowest since Feb, 2014
By Ruby Lian and Josephine Mason
SHANGHAI, Nov 8 (Reuters) - China’s iron ore imports fell nearly 23 percent in October from record levels the previous month, customs data showed on Wednesday, with steel mills in the world’s top producer cutting output as part of a government drive against pollution.
The figures for October were also likely to have been hit as mills and traders cleared customs ahead of a one-week national holiday at the start of the month.
Arrivals dropped to 79.49 million tonnes, down sharply from 102.83 million tonnes in September and marking their lowest since February, 2016. Total Jan-Oct shipments rose 6.3 percent to 896 million tonnes, data from the General Administration of Customs showed.
Mills in leading steel-producing cities have been ordered to curtail production since October as the government hardens efforts to fend off smog.
Steel demand typically eases in winter, while the nation’s war on pollution will also lead to a slowdown in construction activity. That will likely discourage steelmakers from restocking raw material iron ore.
“The steel production cuts should be the main reason (behind the October drop in imports) but at the same time because we have a National Day holiday in October and if you look at historical data, October imports are usually lower,” said Wang Di, consultant at CRU in Beijing.
“I think imports will remain relatively low (for November and December), but maybe not as low as October. Given the production cuts and the very high port stocks at the moment, I don’t think there’s very strong demand.”
Meanwhile, Chinese steel exports fell 3 percent to 4.98 million tonnes in October from the previous month, hitting their lowest since February, 2014, data showed. (Reporting by Ruby Lian and Josephine Mason; Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr in Manila; Editing by Joseph Radford)