China's imports of copper rose 9.3% from a year earlier, customs data on Sunday showed, as a sharp drop in the price of the metal triggered buying appetite amid falling domestic inventories.

Unwrought copper and copper product imports into China, including anode, refined, alloy and semi-finished copper products, totalled 463,693.8 tonnes in July, compared with 424,280.3 tonnes a year earlier.

July's copper imports, however, were down 13.8% from the previous month's 537,698 tonnes.

Copper prices, often seen as an economic bellwether, plunged by one-third from a March high to mid-July as China's COVID-19 control measures hurt manufacturing activities and amid growing fears of a global economic recession.

On July 15, the three-month copper contract on the London Metal Exchange sank below $7,000 a tonne for the first time since November 2020.

"There was large-volume buying from Chinese copper users and traders when the market hit lows," said He Tianyu, a copper analyst at CRU Group, prior to the release of the customs data.

Imports were also buoyed by the open arbitrage window between Shanghai and London, He said.

This was against the backdrop of falling domestic inventories of copper, with some smelters shut for summer maintenance.

ShFE copper inventories dropped to 37,025 tonnes on last Friday, the lowest since Jan. 21, and a 78% drop from March.

In the first seven months of 2022, China brought in 3.41 million tonnes of unwrought copper and copper, an increase of 5.8% from last year.

The country exported 652,197.9 tonnes of unwrought aluminium and aluminium products, including primary, alloy and semi-finished aluminium products, in July, up 39.1% from 469,030.6 tonnes last July.

(Reporting by Siyi Liu; Editing by Kim Coghill)