NEW DELHI, Feb 14 (Reuters) - India's vegetable oil imports in the year to October could rise as high as 11 million tonnes if the government does not curb cheap palm oil imports from southeast Asia, an industry official said on Thursday.
"Imports could be 10.5-11.0 million tonnes if the current trend of unabated cheap imports continues in the absence of any corrective steps by the government," B.V. Mehta, executive director of the Solvent Extractors' Association, told Reuters.
SEA's latest data showed India's vegetable oil imports soared 27.4 percent from a month earlier to hit an all-time high in January on record purchases of cheap palm oil, despite a hike in import duties mid-month.
He forecast demand for vegetable oils in the world's top importer could go up by about 4.8 percent to 17.5 million tonnes in 2012/13 with 63 percent to be sourced by overseas purchases, mainly palm oil.
Earlier, SEA demanded that the import duty on crude edible oil should be raised to 10 percent, while refined cooking oil imports should be taxed at 20 percent, ensuring at least a 10 percent duty differential between the two variants.
India, the world's top vegetable oil buyer, has already taken steps to protect its domestic oilseed growers and refiners from cheap imports from its major suppliers, Indonesia and Malaysia.
Record imports could put more pressure on India's current account deficit, which hit 5.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the September quarter and, according to some analysts, could hit nearly 8 percent in the December quarter.
India currently imposes a 2.5 percent tax on crude edible oil imports including crude palm oil (CPO), and levies a 7.5 percent duty on refined oils including RBD palmolein.
India mainly buys palm oils from Indonesia and Malaysia, and a small quantity of soyoil from Brazil and Indonesia. (Reporting by Ratnajyoti Dutta; Editing by Jo Winterbottom)