BEIJING - China's soybean imports fell 10 percent in March from a year ago, in line with market expectations on easing demand after the Lunar New Year festival, customs data showed on Friday.
Soybean imports for the first quarter, however, edged slightly higher, supported by healthy demand.
The March decline also came as trade tensions between China and the United States escalated last month. Beijing announced last week it would slap a 25 percent import duty on soybeans from the United States in response to Trump's tariffs on Chinese exports.
"Imports are expected to go up in the coming months, despite the Sino-U.S. trade spat, as we have entered the Brazil season and are mainly buying Brazilian beans," said Tian Hao, senior analyst with First Futures.
China's March imports of 5.66 million tonnes were down from last year's 6.33 million tonnes, but up slightly from last month's 5.42 million tonnes, according to customs data.
China's week-long Lunar New Year holiday fell later this year, in mid-February.
Soy imports in the first three months of the year rose 0.2 percent to 19.57 million tonnes, driven by healthy demand from the livestock industry and good crush margins, customs data showed.
China is the world's top soybean buyer and imports 60 percent of the oilseed traded worldwide to make meal for its massive livestock herds. About a third of its imports come from the United States.
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Josephine Mason; editing by Richard Pullin)