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BEIJING, Dec 4 (Reuters) - The world's top buyer of soy China is likely to import 73.5 million tonnes in 2014/15 (Oct/Sept), a rise of 4.5 percent from the previous year, as animal feed industry demand is expected to slow, according to an estimate by a Chinese chamber of commerce.
The forecast compared with 17.5 percent growth of imports in 2013/14, the China Chamber of Commerce of Foodstuffs and Native Produce (CFNA) said at a report issued this week.
"Considering the economic situation in 2014/15 and its impact on the livestock and animal feed industry, the demand growth for soymeal would slow down," it said. The chamber overseas the soy industry on behalf of the commerce ministry.
The chamber's estimate was in line with forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 74 million tonnes for 2014/15.
China's soybean crushing industry, the world's largest, made a combined loss of 28.51 billion yuan ($4.6 billion) in the first 10 months of the year, according to the chamber's calculation. The crushing industry remained in the red in October with losses calculated at 1.8 billion yuan, it said.
Outbreaks of bird flu early in the year coupled with excessive imports by financial traders, hurt the industry profits, with major players, including Wilmar International Ltd and China Agri-Industries suffering big losses in the first quarter of the year.
In the first 10 months of the year, imports by financial traders, including Sunrise Group and Shandong Changhua Food Co. Ltd, reached a combined 12 million tonnes, accounting for 22 percent of total imports during the period, it said.
Sunrise imported 7.9 million tonnes, exceeding its total for 2013, Changhua 2.08 million tonnes and Shandong Yonghui International Trade Co. Ltd. 1.18 million tonnes, it said.
During 2013/14, Sunrise Group is also the largest soy importer with 9.2 million tonnes, followed by state-owned crusher, Jiusan Group, at 8.13 million tonnes and Wilmar at 5.45 million tonnes, it said.
Improved crush margins since September and four-year low Chicago prices sparked a rush by Chinese buyers to snap up U.S. cargoes for November and December shipment, which could threaten the industry's margin again in coming months, traders said.
$1 = 6.1517 yuan Reporting by Niu Shuping and David Stanway; Editing by Michael Perry