* April iron ore imports at 86.06 mln T, down 12.7% on year
* Jan-April imports at 354 mln T vs 381 mln T a year before
* Steel exports at 4.98 mln T last month, imports at 0.96
BEIJING, May 9 (Reuters) - A slump in Chinese iron ore
imports extended into April, as suppliers struggled with
disruptions while a COVID outbreak suppressed demand.
The world's top iron ore consumer took in 86.06 million
tonnes of the material in April, 12.7% less than a year earlier,
implying ongoing weak activity in the country's steelmaking
Imports of the ore, a key material for making steel, were
1.4% lower than in March, when the volume was already down 14.5%
on a year before - due to the same factors. The General
Administration of Customs issued the data on Monday.
Production by miners, including BHP, Rio Tinto
and Fortescue Metals Group in Australia, has
been disrupted by supply-chain snags and pandemic-induced labour
shortages, while Brazil's Vale has also had weather problems.
In China, the pandemic is also restricting transportation of
steelworks' raw materials and product, suppressing their demand.
"The recovery of shipments from major miners was mild in
April and two of the lesser supplier countries - Ukraine and
Russia - suspended exports due to their conflict," said Cheng
Peng, analyst with SinoSteel Futures.
In January-April, China imported 354.4 million tonnes of
iron ore, down 7.1% from the same period a year earlier,
according to the customs administration.
"Supplies from Vale are expected to improve after the first
quarter ... but supply restriction in Australia could continue
until the second quarter," Cheng said.
The Monday data also showed China exported 4.98 million
tonnes of steel last month, up from 4.95 million tonnes in March
but well below the 7.97 million tonnes of a year earlier, when
traders were ramping up shipments ahead of removal of most steel
export tax rebates.
Steel imports in April came in at 956,000 tonnes, falling
below 1 million tonnes amid surging overseas prices, the customs
(Reporting by Min Zhang and Dominique Patton; Editing by
Christian Schmollinger and Bradley Perrett)