The U.S. imported around 4.76 MMT of edible oils last year, down just 1% from 2019 imports, which were near 4.83 MMT. USDA expects imports to continue to drift lower this year, with the edible oils complex seeing about a 2 percent decline in total imported volume.
In 2020, canola oil accounted for 37 percent of imports, a share that has been steady for several years. Crude canola imports fell to 243,000 MT last year, compared to the previous five-year average of 401,000 MT. Part of the loss in demand may be attributed to the biodiesel industry utilizing more soybean oil last year. Imports of refined canola oil, at 1.49 MMT, were down just 1 percent year over year.
Imports of palm oil totaled 1.43 MMT, down 9 percent from 2019. Imports of refined palm oil were down 10 percent but crude palm oil imports, always a relatively small volume, were up 40 percent YOY at 16,450 MT.
Refined coconut oil imports came to 265,620 MT, the lowest level since 2011, while imports of crude coconut oil were close to 188,800 MT, almost 20,000 MT more than the volume imported in 2019. Imports of refined palm kernel oil, a tropical oil that competes with coconut oil, were up 11 percent YOY at 382,170 MT.
Evidence of quarantine at-home cooking: Imports of olive oil were a record 408,000 MT, up 18 percent from 2019. The increase was driven by higher demand for virgin olive oil, imports of which were up 18 percent YOY at 299,000 MT.
The U.S. imports a much smaller amount of sunflower oil, with annual volumes usually below 70,000 MT. Last year, however, imports rose to 186,100 MT, with both crude and refined types showing large YOY increases. USDA expects imports to decline by about 35,000 MT in 2021, but that still leaves sunflower oil imports at a notably higher level than we have seen historically.
Other oils in the complex are projected to see just slight declines in 2021 imports compared to last year—and imports of crude canola oil might be higher.