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SHANGHAI, Oct 13 (Reuters) - China's iron ore imports surged to the second highest on record in September, customs data showed on Thursday, as mills in the world's top steel producer ramped up production amid healthy profits.
Firm domestic prices also helped curb China's steel exports to the lowest since February, offering a reprieve for overseas rivals that had been angered by a flood of cheap Chinese products.
"Despite a modest fall in steel prices, steel mills were still making a profit in September and thus lifted steel production," said Xia Junyan, investment manager at Hangzhou CIEC Trading Co in Shanghai.
"Actually this year's steel production stood at very high levels, boosting appetite for imported iron ore."
China imported 92.99 million tonnes of iron ore in September, up 6.0 percent from the previous month, data from the General Administration of Customs showed. That was the highest since the all-time high of 96.27 million tonnes in December 2015.
Imports of the steelmaking raw material for January to September reached 763 million tonnes, up 9.1 percent from a year ago.
The country's steel exports fell 2.3 percent from August to 8.80 million tonnes last month, the data showed. Shipments for the first nine months of the year were up 2.4 percent at 85.12 million tonnes.
Chinese prices for rebar steel, a construction product, fell 6.5 percent in September, but are still up 39 percent since the beginning of this year.
However, prices may came under under pressure from Beijing's efforts to restrict home purchases to cool its property market. (Reporting by Ruby Lian in SHANGHAI and Manolo Serapio Jr in MANILA; Editing by Richard Pullin)