By Dominique Patton
BEIJING (Reuters) - China, the world's top oilseed buyer, imported a record volume of soybeans for the first two months of the year, as buyers stocked up in anticipation of healthy demand and over worries of a delayed harvest in Brazil.
January and February imports reached 16.17 million tonnes, customs data showed on Tuesday, up 16.1% from a year earlier, and the highest for the two months combined since at least 2008, according to Reuters records of customs data.
China's General Administration of Customs combines data for the first two months of the year to smooth out distortions caused by the week-long Lunar New Year holiday, which fell this year in late January.
China imported much lower volumes of soybeans in prior decades making it unlikely that imports before 2008 were greater than this year's level.
The imports were higher than expected and followed soft imports through much of 2022, although they had surged in December.
February imports likely surged as crushers worried about a delayed harvest in top supplier Brazil rushed to load more soybeans from the second main supplier, the United States, said Rosa Wang, analyst at Shanghai JC Intelligence.
Brazil's combined January and February soybean sales fell 31% year from a year earlier to an estimated 6 million tonnes, consultancy AgRural said last week.
China's meat demand, and therefore the animal feed ingredient soymeal, is expected to rise this year after Beijing abandoned strict zero-COVID measures in late 2022.
The large volumes have pressured soymeal prices, said traders, with the most active soymeal futures contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange down almost 5% in February.
Arrivals in March are, however, set to decline because Brazil is still behind on shipments, said Wang.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Neil Fullick)