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China's soybean imports from Brazil plunged in Jan-Feb on cargo delays

BEIJING, March 20 (Reuters) - China's soybean imports from Brazil fell sharply in the first two months of 2021 compared to the same period last year, customs data showed on Saturday, as rain delayed some shipments from the top exporter.

China, the world's top buyer of soybeans, brought in 1.03 million tonnes of the oilseed from Brazil in Jan-Feb, down nearly 80% from 5.14 million tonnes a year earlier, data from the General Administration of Custom showed.

Rain in Brazil has slowed the harvest and exports in the South American country, forcing some crushers in China to consider curbing operations.

Shipments from the United States to China in Jan-Feb totalled 11.9 million tonnes, nearly double the volume of 6.1 million tonnes in the previous year.

China stepped up purchases of U.S. farm produce, including soybeans, after the two sides signed an initial trade deal in January 2020.

China's total imports of soybeans in the first two months of 2021 fell 0.8% to 13.41 million tonnes.

Its appetite for the oilseed was expected to keep increasing thanks to good crushing margins and healthy demand from a fast recovering pig sector.

Fresh cases of African swine fever in recent months, however, have cast doubts on the country's pork production, and stirred worries over demand for soymeal, the most important protein ingredient in animal feed.

Chinese crushers bring in soybeans to crush into soymeal, and for cooking oil.

Crushers in Rizhao, Shandong, a major soybean processing hub, <CNSOY-RZO-MRG> can make around 158 yuan ($24.28) for every tonne of the oilseed they crush as of March 19, well above historical average levels in the past 10 years. ($1 = 6.5070 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Emily Chow; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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