Approximately 80% of the world’s sugar is produced from sugarcane in tropical and subtropical climates with the remaining 30% derived from sugar beet, which is grown mostly in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere. Seventy countries produce sugar from sugarcane, 40 from sugar beet and 10 from both. While there has been a slight dip in demand due to health concerns and increasing obesity, in 2017/2018, Statista reports that the world’s ongoing obsession with sweets was fed largely by the following five nations.
Brazil alone accounts for almost 52% of the world's sugar market. The nation produced 38.9 million metric tons in 2017/2018, but this is the lowest yield since 2009. The drop in production has been caused by poor conditions, such as droughts, and low prices. However, Brazilian auto fleets are fully equipped to run on ethanol so there is considerable domestic demand for the alternative fuel. In addition to being the world’s largest producer of sugar, Brazil is second in ethanol production only to the United States. Since the mid-1990s, the volume of sugarcane harvested and processed in Brazil has almost tripled to meet rising demand for sugarcane ethanol and bioelectricity. With no drop in food production over that time, Brazil has proven its viability as an effective and efficient ethanol powerhouse.
A major player in the worldwide sugar trade, India produced 33 million metric tons in 2017/2018. The nation is seeing record levels of sugar production. India’s sugar production rose 11.5% during the 2014 to 2015 season on bumper cane production. This increase in production led to an extensive surplus in Indian sugar with mills struggling to pay fair wages to workers. India’s increasing exports of sugar flooded the market and drove global prices down.
For its first year without quotas, EU sugar production is estimated at 21 million tonnes for 2017/2018, which is more than a 20% increase in the average of previous years. EU production is expected to stabilize in 2018/19 as prices are expected to continue to fall. The extra production is mainly being exported as new destinations emerge.
In 2017/2018, Thailand produced almost 15 million metric tons of sugar. These are record levels for Thailand, which have been aided by expanded acreage and favorable weather conditions. Farmers have shifted from cassava to sugarcane production because of the higher returns. Lower global sugar prices are causing the nation to increase its production of ethanol as the outlook for sugar exports is less promising. A larger proportion of the nation's sugar is expected to be sold to local ethanol producers to meet the increasing market demand for biofuels in Thailand.
While Chinese sugar production has steadily dropped, the country produced 10 million metric tons in 2017/2018, domestic demand has dramatically increased leading China to be the world’s largest importer of white sugar. There has been a large gap between domestic prices held high by the Chinese government to support farmers and falling international sugar prices. The nation allows 1.94 million tonnes of sugar imports a year at a tariff of 15%, part China's commitment to the World Trade Organization. Imports beyond that amount are subject to higher tariffs and permits.