In the 2018/2019 crop year, sugar production was 179 million metric tons, with 181 million metric tons expected for 2019/2020. Approximately 80% of the world’s sugar is produced from sugarcane in tropical and subtropical climates with the remaining 20% derived from sugar beet, which is grown mostly in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere. A total of 124 countries produce sugar. The largest sugar-producing countries are as follows:
India became the world's largest sugar producer in 2018/2019, beating out Brazil for the first time in 16 years. India produced 33 million metric tons of sugar. That is 19% of the world's total sugar production of 179 million metric tons. The nation is seeing record levels of sugar production due to increased sugar farmland and improved yields. However, for 2019/2020, the country expects sugar production to drop by approximately 26%. This is because of droughts in 2018 that caused farmers to reduce sugarcane planting and because of floods in 2019 damaging crops.
Brazil has historically been the world's largest sugar producer but ceded second place to India in the 2018/2019 crop year. The country produced 29.5 million metric tons of sugar. 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, which has resulted in a slight change towards producing more cane ethanol. In addition to being the world’s second-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 the 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.
Though not a specific country but rather a political and economic collection of individual countries, the EU is the third-largest producer of sugar. In the 2018/2019 crop year, the EU produced 18 million metric tons of sugar. It is actually the world's largest producer of beet sugar, which makes up 20% of the world's total sugar production. Beet sugar is primarily produced in northern Europe, in northern France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, and Belgium. Sugar production in the EU grew significantly in the 2017/2018 crop year. It was the first year without quotas and production was at 22 million metric tons, which was more than a 20% increase in the average of previous years.
Sugarcane is Thailand's most important crop and in 2018/2019, Thailand produced almost 15 million metric tons of sugar. Not only is it the fourth-largest sugar producer in the world, but it is also the second-largest sugar exporter in the world, after Brazil. At the start of the 2019/2020 crop year, sugar production for Thailand is down and the fall in production has led to higher sugar prices. Production is down primarily due to droughts. Furthermore, the Thai sugar industry is expected to face further woes due to the oversupply of sugar from India and China's production.
China produced 10.6 million metric tons of sugar in 2018/2019. Though China is one of the world's largest sugar producers, it is a net importer of sugar. Its demand for sugar has grown significantly in the last decades. There has been a large gap between domestic prices held high by the Chinese government to support farmers and falling international sugar prices, historically.
The Chinese domestic sugar sector has had difficulty competing internationally as it has higher production costs for its sugar production than foreign competitors. China allows for 1.94 million tonnes of sugar imports a year at a tariff of 15%, as a result of an agreement with the World Trade Organization. Imports beyond that amount are subject to higher tariffs of 50% and require additional permits. In 2017 and subsequent years, China added additional amounts to the 50%, whereby in 2019/2020, the total tariff for imports over the allowed quota is 85%. The tariffs expire in May 2020, and Chinese sugar mills will ask for an extension to preserve these tariffs in the hope for the continued protection of the domestic sector.