The palm group of oils continued to dominate the vegetable oil import basket, making up 63 per cent of the total during the November 2022-March 2023 period of the current oil year to October, even as shipments into the country increased by 22 per cent during the period.

Data from the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India (SEA) shows that the share of the palm group of oils has increased this season compared to soft oils, which commanded a 53 per cent share of the imports last season.

Total edible oil imports during November 2022–March 2023 were at 6.98 million tonnes (mt), compared with 5.64 mt in the year-ago period. Shipments of non-edible oils, however, nearly halved to 79,828 tonnes, against 1.52 lakh tonnes a year ago. 

High prices hit imports

Vegetable oil imports increased six per cent in March, the lowest this season, as crude and refined palm oil prices have firmed up above $1,000 a tonne since February.

Imports in March were at 1.13 mt, compared with 1.05 mt a year ago, but shipments of non-edible oils stood at 36,693 tonnes (52,872 tonnes a year ago).

In March, palm oil imports increased by 24 per cent to 7.28 lakh tonnes (5.28 lakh tonnes) and shipments of soyabean oil declined by 27 per cent to 2.59 lakh tonnes (3.56 lakh tonnes). Sunflower oil inflows into the country dipped by 5 per cent to 1.48 lakh tonnes (1.57 lakh tonnes). 

SEA expressed concern over rising RBD palmolein imports, which made up 22 per cent of shipments of the palm group of oils, and was depriving the domestic industry of its capacity utilisation. 

Deluge of stocks

“India’s palm refining industry is suffering from low capacity utilisation due to the excessive import of RBD palmolein,” the association said. 

The duty difference between crude palm oil and refined palmolein/ palm oil should be increased from the current 7.5 per cent to at least 15 per cent, it said.

Higher edible oil imports has left an estimated 9.78 lakh tonnes at ports, while the total stocks were at 3.45 mt. Since March 1, stocks have increased by 22,000 tonnes. 

So far this season, RBD palmolein imports were at 9.89 lakh tonnes (7.71 lakh tonnes), while crude palm oil shipments were at 5.99 mt (4.87 mt).

Also read:SEA expects edible oil demand to go up to 29 mt by 2027-28

Top origins of purchase

Soyabean oil made up 1.46 mt (1.93 mt) and sunflower oil 1.11 mt (1.05 mt) of the total.

The two top import sources were Indonesia (2.42 mt) and Malaysia (1.35 mt). 

Edible oil imports have increased this year as prices in the global market have been ruling easy. Last year, vegetable oil production was hit by weather and supplies, especially sunflower oil, which was affected by the Ukraine war.

The Covid pandemic, on the other hand, affected production of palm oil in South-East Asia. Edible oil prices doubled during 2021-22 due to this, before easing

Prices are ruling easy on higher oilseeds production, slack export demand due to recession and high inventories. According to the US Department of Agriculture, oilseeds production during 2022-23 is estimated at 625.38 mt, compared with 609.21 mt a year ago.