Sugar industry

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Sugar Prices 1962-2022
USD per pound

The sugar industry subsumes the production, processing and marketing of sugars (mostly sucrose and fructose). Globally, most sugar is extracted from sugar cane (~80% predominantly in the tropics) and sugar beet (~ 20%, mostly in temperate climate, like in the U.S. or Europe).

Sugar beets awaiting processing at the Holly Sugar Corporation plant near Brawley, California. Photograph by Environmental Protection Agency. (12/02/1970)

Sugar is used for soft drinks, sweetened beverages, convenience foods, fast food, candy, confectionery, baked products, and other sweetened foods. Sugarcane is used in the distillation of rum.

Sugar subsidies have driven market costs for sugar well below the cost of production. As of 2018, 3/4 of world sugar production was not traded on the open market. The global market for sugar and sweeteners was some $77.5 billion in 2012, with sugar comprising an almost 85% share, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 4.6%.[1]

Globally in 2018, around 185 million tons of sugar was produced, led by India with 35.9 million tons, followed by Brazil and Thailand.[2] There are more than 123 sugar-producing countries, but only 30% of the produce is traded on the international market.


Sugar subsidies have driven market costs for sugar well below the cost of production. As of 2019, 3/4 of world sugar production is never traded on the open market. Brazil controls half the global market, paying the most ($2.5 billion per year) in subsidies to its sugar industry.[3]

The US sugar system is complex, using price supports, domestic marketing allotments, and tariff-rate quotas.[4] It directly supports sugar processors rather than farmers growing sugar crops.[4][3] The US government also uses tariffs to keep the US domestic price of sugar 64% to 92% higher than the world market price, costing American consumers $3.7 billion per year.[4] A 2018 policy proposal to eliminate sugar tariffs, called "Zero-for-Zero", is currently (March 2018) before the US Congress.[3][5] Previous reform attempts have failed.[6]

The European Union (EU) is a leading sugar exporter. The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU used to set maximum quotas for production and exports, and a subsidized sugar sales with an EU-guaranteed minimum price.[7][8] Large import tariffs were also used to protect the market.[7] In 2004, the EU was spending €3.30 in subsidies to export €1 worth of sugar, and some sugar processors, like British Sugar, had a 25% profit margin.[9]

A 2004 Oxfam report called EU sugar subsidies "dumping" and said they harm the world's poor.[9] A WTO ruling against the EU quota and subsidy system in 2005-2006[10] forced the EU to cut its minimum price and quotas, and stop doing intervention buying.[7] The EU abolished some quotas in 2015,[11][12] but minimum prices remain.[11][13][14] Tariffs also persist for most countries.[14] In 2009, the EU granted Least Developed Countries (LDCs) zero-tariff access to the EU market[7] as part of the Everything but Arms initiative.[8]

As of 2018, India, Thailand, and Mexico also subsidize sugar.[3]

Glucose syrups produced from wheat and corn (maize) compete with the traditional dry sugar market.[citation needed]

Global players[edit]

The top 10 sugar-producing companies based on production in 2010:[15]

Rank Company 2010/11 Output [Mt] Country
1. Südzucker AG 4.2 Germany
2. Cosan SA Industria & Comercio 4.1 Brazil
3. British Sugar Plc 3.9 UK
4. Tereos Internacional SA 3.6 France
5. Mitr Phol Sugar Corp. 2.7 Thailand
6. Nordzucker Gmbh & Co KG 2.5 Germany
7. Louis Dreyfus 1.8 Netherlands
8. Wilmar International Ltd. 1.5 Singapore
9. Thai Roong Ruang Sugar Group 1.5 Thailand
10. Turkiye Seker Fabrikalari 1.34 Turkey

The global sugar industry has a low market share concentration. The top four sugar producers account for less than 20.0% of the market.[16]


Lobbying and marketing[edit]

The sugar industry engages in sugar marketing and lobbying, minimizing the adverse health effects of sugar—obesity and tooth decay—and influencing medical research and public health recommendations.[17][18][19][20]


History of the sugar industry[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Global Sugar, Sweeteners Market to Hit $97 Billion by 2017". Natural Products Insider. 18 April 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ "Sugar: World Markets and Trade" (PDF). Foreign Agricultural Service, US Department of Agriculture. 20 November 2018. Retrieved 24 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Phillips, Judson (16 March 2018). "Sugar, steel subsidies are anything but sweet". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ a b c "Sugar and sweeteners: Policy". US Department of Agriculture. 20 August 2019. Retrieved 22 November 2019.
  5. ^ Romano, Robert (2017-01-17). "Yoho Zero for Zero sugar policy is a trade win-win for everyone | Congressman Ted Yoho". Archived from the original on 2017-01-19. Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  6. ^ Edwards, Chris (2007-06-20). "Why Congress Should Repeal Sugar Subsidy | Cato Institute". Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ a b c d "Business | Q&A: Sugar subsidies". BBC News. 2005-09-19. Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  8. ^ a b "Food, Farming, Fisheries | European Commission" (PDF). October 2016. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-01-25. Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  9. ^ a b "Dumping on the world - How EU sugar policies hurt poor countries" (PDF). March 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-05-07. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  10. ^ "Brazil Claims Victory After WTO Ruling on EU Sugar Subsidies". 6 August 2004. Archived from the original on 2018-08-20. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  11. ^ a b "Sugar | European Commission". Retrieved 2021-05-06.
  12. ^ Burrell, Alison; Himics, Mihaly; Van Doorslaer, Benjamin; Ciaian, Pavel; Shrestha, Shailesh (2014). "EU sugar policy : a sweet transition after 2015". Publications Office of the European Union. doi:10.2791/68116. ISBN 978-92-79-35567-7. ISSN 1831-9424. Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Viljoen, Willemien (8 May 2014). "The end of the EU sugar quota and the implication for African producers". Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ a b Roberts, Dan (27 March 2017). "Sweet Brexit: what sugar tells us about Britain's future outside the EU". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Chanjaroen, Chanyaporn (November 4, 2011). "Suedzucker Leads the Top 10 Sugar-Producing Companies". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "Global Sugar Manufacturing: Market Research Report". IBISWorld. 31 March 2021. Retrieved 2021-05-06.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Sifferlin, Alexandra (10 October 2016). "Soda Companies Fund 96 Health Groups In the U.S." Time. Retrieved 2018-03-24.
  18. ^ Mozaffarian, Dariush (2 May 2017). "Conflict of Interest and the Role of the Food Industry in Nutrition Research". JAMA. 317 (17): 1755–1756. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.3456. ISSN 0098-7484. PMID 28464165.
  19. ^ Schillinger, Dean; Tran, Jessica; Mangurian, Christina; Kearns, Cristin (20 December 2016). "Do Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Cause Obesity and Diabetes? Industry and the Manufacture of Scientific Controversy" (PDF). Annals of Internal Medicine. 165 (12): 895–897. doi:10.7326/L16-0534. ISSN 0003-4819. PMC 7883900. PMID 27802504. Retrieved 2018-03-21.(original url, paywalled: Author's conflict of interest disclosure forms)
  20. ^ O’Connor, Anahad (31 October 2016). "Studies Linked to Soda Industry Mask Health Risks". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-23.

Further reading[edit]