China's iron ore imports reached a record 68.97Mt in January, up 18.8% from 58.08Mt in December, official data from the General Administration of Customs showed.

Steel mills bolstered iron ore inventories to maintain production ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday in early February, leading to a jump in imports of the raw material.

The previous record for iron ore imports was 64.55Mt in September 2009.

Steel exports from the world's largest steel producer rose 9% to 3.12Mt in January from the previous month, the data showed.

Analysts expect exports to extend gains in February to reflect recovering demand in international markets.

China imported 1.64Mt of steel products in January, up from 1.41Mt in December.