By Dominique Patton
BEIJING, Aug 22 (Reuters) - China, the world's top sugar buyer, imported 420,000 tonnes of sugar in July, down 13.6 percent from a year earlier, customs data showed on Monday.
The imports were still the highest monthly level since December's 500,000 tonnes, and up from last month's 370,000 tonnes, thanks to a dip in global prices in the second quarter that prompted buying.
Imports are expected to slow again in coming months, said analysts, after global prices recovered, pushing the import margin into negative territory since late May.
China's sugar imports have slowed this year after last year's record buying spree as higher global prices reduced the buying appetite of Chinese refineries.
Talk of a possible release of sugar by China's state reserves could also affect imports early next year.
China has an estimated 7 million tonnes of sugar in its state reserves and is under pressure to sell off the ageing stock.
Local mills are urging the government to hold off, however, after a wet summer hurt consumption of beverages, the largest end-user of the sweetener. (Reporting by Dominiue Patton; Editing by Richard Pullin)