MUMBAI/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Indian buyers have resumed purchases of Malaysian palm oil after a four-month gap following a diplomatic row, with buying spurred by a fall in domestic inventories and discounted prices, trade sources said.
The renewed purchases come amid improving trade relations between the two countries after the formation of a new government in Kuala Lumpur, with Malaysia signing a deal last week to buy a record 100,000 tonnes of Indian rice.
Leading Indian importers last week contracted up to 200,000 tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) from Malaysia, the world’s No.2 producer after Indonesia, to be shipped in June and July, the sources told Reuters.
“Port stocks have dropped sharply in India because of lower imports,” said a Singapore-based trader who sells Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil.
Ship-tracking data compiled by Refinitiv showed that India’s total palm oil imports for the first four months of 2020 FELL by more than 50% from the same period in 2019 to 1.11 million tonnes.
(Graphic: India imports of palm oil from Malaysia vs Indonesia - )
A restart to buying by India, the world's biggest edible oil importer, could further support Malaysian palm oil prices FCPOc3, which have edged up from 10-month lows in recent days.
India early this year restricted imports of Malaysian palm oil after then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad criticised policies by New Delhi affecting the country’s Muslim minority.
The renewed buying has been spurred by low stocks, while India’s relations with Malaysia have been improving since a new government was formed in early March, said an Indian edible oil refiner who contracted “a few vessels” for June shipment.
“I think the Indian government will allow unloading of upcoming shipments. We can’t rely on one seller (Indonesia) indefinitely, especially when you have to build inventory,” the buyer said.
India’s commerce ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
“Our relationship with India has become better since the formation of the new government,” said Malaysia’s Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali, who was planning to visit India to negotiate palm oil-related issues before lockdown was imposed.
Malaysian palm oil is now available at a $15 discount to supplies from Indonesia which on Monday raised its palm oil export levy by $5 per tonne, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm.
Indian purchases of palm oil from Malaysia could rise further if discounts remain, he said.
Malaysian buyers are eager to sell even at a discount as stocks are rising and production is expected to improve in June, said a second Indian edible oil refiner, who bought Malaysian palm oil.
Malaysia’s palm oil inventories jumped to more than 2 million tonnes in April, well above expectations, as production surged to a six-month high and coronavirus lockdown led to a slump in demand.
India buys more than 9 million tonnes of palm oil a year, accounting for nearly two-thirds of its total edible oil imports, and took a record 4.4 million tonnes of Malaysian palm oil in 2019.
“Indonesia’s export tax is allowing Malaysian sellers to offer a discount. It is tempting for Indian buyers,” said Anilkumar Bagani, research head of Sunvin Group, a Mumbai-based vegetable oil broker.
In coming months Malaysia would start regaining lost share in Indian market, analysts said.
“To keep current demand levels, local (Malaysian) CPO will have to maintain those discounts to soft oils and the Indonesian CPO,” said Marcello Cultrera, institutional sales manager & broker at Phillip Futures in Kuala Lumpur.
Palm oil competes with soft oils such as sunflower oil and soyoil.
Malaysian palm oil futures extended gains on Tuesday after the Reuters story and closed up 1.9%.
Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai and Naveen Thukral in Singapore; Additional reporting by Mei Mei Chu in KUALA LUMPUR; editing by Richard Pullin and Louise Heavens
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