world sugar
markets and
support policies


how the sugar market is shaped and influenced

Sugar beet

in summary

Sugar is a high profile commodity both politically and in terms of trade in many of the world's key producing regions. Its production (whether from cane or beet) is also highly capital intensive, requiring large scale operations to be competitive. This page covers how a handful of leading producers and their countries' support policies impact the market.

For more sugar industry information, click the links below:

European Association of Sugar Manufacturers (CEFS)
International Sugar Organization
LMC International
Illovo sugar

is highly

large scale
be competitive

In summary - factory
key facts about influential producing countries and markets

World sugar production and trade is dominated by a number of influential producing countries and markets. Reviewed in this summary are Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU – with the UK, India, Thailand and the USA. These contribute to over half of the global production, and Brazil and Thailand account for about half of cross border trade.

Select a country / market to reveal key facts.

domestic consumption


million tonnes in 20/21


of global production


million tonnes annually in 20/21


Brazil is the single most important player and price setter on the world sugar (and ethanol) market, accounting for one-fifth of global sugar production and around 40% of exports as its cane sugar industrial complex has been built-up through decades of government support. The cane mills vary their production of ethanol and sugar according to their price relativities which alter with changes to domestic and world markets. Because both products use sugar cane as their common feedstock, support flows to the whole complex no matter how given, e.g. through the mandatory ethanol blending requirements and support for flex-fuel cars, as well as programmes incentivising investment, together with pricing interventions through the taxation system. Additionally, sugar cane growers in north-east Brazil receive direct support when world prices are depressed. The latest support for the sector comes from the RenovaBio programme designed to meet Brazil’s climate change commitments by making fuel distributors buy emission credits (CBio’s) from ethanol producers.

domestic consumption


million tonnes annually in 20/21


of its production in 20/21


million tonnes annually in 20/21


Thailand is the world’s second largest sugar exporter after Brazil and as a result of protectionist sugar policies, greatly increased its production capacity and exports to the world market until Brazil’s threat of a World Trade Organization Dispute Panel forced some de-regulation in 2018 and liberalisation of the domestic sugar market. Despite the changes made, government financial support continued and investment incentives remain for sugar cane growers and millers, making the domestic sugar industry vulnerable to changes in government support policy affecting the balance between crops, as between sugar cane and cassava. Vietnam is not convinced by the Thai liberalisation moves as it has recently introduced anti-dumping duties on imports of sugar from Thailand.

domestic consumption


million tonnes annually in 20/21


million tonnes in 20/21


million tonnes annually in 20/21


India continues to cement its position as the world’s largest sugar consumer and second largest producer, as its government support policies continue to fuel production increases, irrespective of domestic surpluses and world market developments. Due to the scale of Indian exports and the use of export subsidies until very recently, these have affected world sugar markets and so other world sugar market exporters. In January 2022, India appealed against a decision of a World Trade Organization (WTO) trade dispute settlement panel which ruled that the country’s domestic support measures for sugar and sugar cane were inconsistent with global trade norms following cases submitted to the WTO by Brazil, Australia and Guatemala. As there is no WTO Appellate Body to judge India’s appeal, however, it is free to continue raising domestic cane support prices so maintaining cane as the most profitable crop for farmers.

domestic consumption


million tonnes annually in 20/21


million tonnes of sugar in 2020/21


million tonnes annually in 20/21


The EU, with the UK, is one of the world’s major sugar producers with almost all sugar produced from sugar beet. In 2017/18, the market was de-regulated, and EU sugar production quotas abolished. Fixed import duties remain in place as the principal support mechanism for the EU’s sugar sector, plus Voluntary Coupled Support paid by the EU’s less efficient beet sugar producing countries and substantial support for the limited volume of EU sugar cane production in the French Overseas Departments. The EU beet sugar industry has tended to decline in recent years as beet prices are no longer underpinned by quotas and the industry has been impacted by weather volatility and the banning of neonicotinoids used to control virus yellows.

domestic consumption


million tonnes in 20/21


Domestic Sugar Consumption


million tonnes annually in 20/21


The USA is unique as its sugar market is virtually closed to imports from the rest of the world (apart from for re-export), as imports from Mexico are regulated to ensure they meet the bulk of US import needs allowing for American World Trade Organization preferential trade commitments. The system requires this tight control so the US Department of Agriculture can ensure that imports do not undercut US domestic market prices and it can fulfil the Congressional requirement that US sugar support should operate at no net cost to the Federal Budget.

domestic consumption


million tonnes annually in 20/21


growers in
seven milling


million tonnes annually in 20/21


Australia is a significant net exporter of sugar, and the industry depends on the world market for the majority of its income as there is no direct government support. Being situated in a sugar-deficit Asia-Pacific location and with a deregulated sugar market, it has attracted foreign investment into the sector resulting in most of its cane mills now being foreign owned. Indirect support from the government has been geared towards improving competitiveness and innovation within agriculture. The government also intervenes in times of climatic or market crisis, but unlike in many other sugar producing countries, there is little support for ethanol or bio-based industries.

domestic consumption


million tonnes annually in 20/21


of demand
comes from
3 port side


million tonnes annually in 20/21


Canada has only a small domestic beet sugar industry and imports the majority of its domestic requirements in the form of raw sugar, processed by portside refineries. Its sugar model is designed to protect the interests of domestic food manufacturers by ensuring they can purchase sugar at world prices, plus refining margin. To protect refiners, their import-duty structure provides some protection from white sugar imports. More importantly, anti-dumping and countervailing duties have been applied on white sugar competitors – the USA and the EU - on a continuous basis since the 1990’s.

operating in a residual market

The world sugar market is a residual market characterised by extreme volatility, which often trades below global costs of production1. Government sugar policies in a handful of countries, notably Brazil, Thailand and India, have a substantial effect on the world sugar market’s supply-demand balance and consequently on its trading price level. It is therefore not a normal clearing market and cannot be used as a sustainable ‘benchmark’ on which to base sugar industry policies or strategies.

support policies and subsidies

Most global producers – in particular Brazil, Thailand and India – have responded to these conditions by developing a substantial mix of policies and subsidies to support domestic production. Collectively these support policies have a profound distortionary effect on the world sugar market (see map dropdowns for more information).

as a result of these factors
sugar can be designated as ‘sensitive' trade negotiations, a status which is recognised by the World Trade Organisation (WTO)

schedule of safeguards and concessions

WTO notifiable

These are usually WTO notifiable and include: quota systems, export subsidies, sugar and cane price
setting, and direct aid for farmers or processors. These are commonly used in Thailand, India and the USA.

These are often not WTO notifiable and include: general (decoupled) agricultural support, loans,
debt write-off, taxation schemes, differential import duties, market intervention tools and cross-subsidies.
These are more prevalent in Brazil, the EU, Australia and Canada.


  1. USDA 1970-2015, LMC International 2014, compiled by the American Sugar Alliance
AB Sugar China Azucarera British Sugar Germains Seed Technology Illovo Sugar Group Vivergo Fuelds