Brisbane: Asia holds the key to growth in world sugar consumption, with China and India both showing spectacular increases, in demand, in an industry hit elsewhere by competition from sweeteners, Australia’s top sugar exporter said.
With two-thirds of the world’s population and a third of its income, Asia could be sugar’s saviour, said Ian White, chief executive of exporter Queensland Sugar Ltd, after a long period of prices barely above the cost of production.
“Asia will lead the way in the consumption stakes... We should see very strong growth from Asia,” said White, at the World Beet and Cane Growers Conference.
“We need to take the fight with sweeteners to the developing countries,” he added.
Sugar consumption in both China and India has more than doubled since the 1980s, rising to 12 million tonnes (mt) a year for China and to 20mt a year for India, and White sees scope for further growth.
Exports of sugar from Thailand and Australia, the second and third biggest exporters in the world, respectively after Brazil, were well placed to benefit because of their proximity to Asian markets.
High world corn prices, fuelled by demand for ethanol fuel, may also cause a swing back to sugar consumption in the Americas, White said.
Corn sweeteners had replaced more than 11.3mt a year of sugar consumption. World sugar prices are hovering around 10 cents (Rs404) a pound (0.45kg), having fallen from 19 cents in early 2006.
Consumption of sugar in Asia is still relatively low at about 20kg per capita, compared with 32.5kg in North America, 45.9kg in Central America and 47.8kg in South America.
But Asian consumption has trebled to around 60mt a year from around 20mt over the past 27 years.
Over the same period, consumption in Europe has barely shifted, to just under 34mt now from 32mt, while consumption in North, Central and South America has expanded to about 35mt from 26mt.
China is leading the growth in East Asia, with demand also strong in Indonesia. Sugar consumption in China’s main cities is close to the Asian average at 20kg per capita a year, but consumption in rural areas is only 2kg a head a year.
“This shows the opportunity that is there for many years to come,” White said.
Indian consumption of sugar is also soaring, to 20mt a year from around 6mt in 1979. This has brought the country’s sugar consumption to 20kg per capita a year.
Economic prosperity is also showing through in rising sugar consumption in West Asia, where investors were setting up increasing numbers of sugar refineries to replace production from Europe, White said.