The 5 Countries That Produce the Most Sugar

About 80% of the world’s sugar is produced from cane grown in tropical and subtropical climates. The remaining 20% comes from sugar beets, which are grown mostly in the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere.

In the 2022/2023 crop year, global sugar production is expected to be 182 million metric tons, up 1.7 million tons from the previous year.

More than 110 countries produce sugar and the size of their contributions is affected by local politics and economic policy. For example, the war in Ukraine is expected to reduce its sugar beet consumption by 20% in 2022/2023.

Key Takeaways

  • The largest sugar-producing countries are Brazil, India, the European Union, Thailand, and China.
  • Sugar is a major crop for Thailand, which has now recovered from a drought and has regained its previous levels of production.
  • China is a major producer of sugar but its exports are hampered by high tariffs.
  • The market is dominated by cane sugar, at 80% of all production, but beet sugar is an important crop in more northern climates.

The world’s largest sugar producers are, in order of size, Brazil, India, the European Union, Thailand, and China.

1. Brazil

Brazil’s already massive contribution to the world’s sugar supply is expected to increase by one million tons in the 2022-2023 harvest year due in part to favorable weather. This is despite the fact that more Brazilian farmland is being devoted to soybeans and corn.

The country’s increase in production also is benefiting from a decision to shift a fraction of Brazil’s sugar cane crop from ethanol production to sugar production. In addition to being the world’s largest sugar producer, Brazil is second only to the United States in ethanol production.

Since the mid-1990s, the volume of sugar cane harvested and processed in Brazil has almost tripled. That reflects the rising demand for sugar cane ethanol and renewable fuels in general. With no drop in food production over that time, Brazil has proved its viability as an effective and efficient ethanol powerhouse.

Countries with more land, warmer temperatures, and more rain tend to produce more sugar.

2. India

India is not far behind Brazil in sugar production and, in fact, held the top spot as late as 2020.

India produces nearly 15% of the world’s total sugar production. At the same time, domestic consumption of sugar is increasing.

Its overall production is expected to decrease 3% to 35.8 million tons in 2022-2023.

3. The European Union

This political and economic collection of 27 nations is the world’s third-largest producer of sugar. In the 2022/2023 crop year, the EU is expected to produce 16.3 million metric tons of sugar. That is down by about 250,000 tons as European farmers switch from sugarbeet to more profitable crops.

The EU 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, including northern France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. Drought and the beet yellow virus disease contributed significantly to the decline of European sugar production in the previous year.

4. Thailand

Sugar cane is one of Thailand’s most important crops, and the country is now rebounding from a drought that badly hurt its production in the 2020-2021 crop year. Production in 2022-2023 is expected to reach 10.5 million tons, a slight increase over the previous year.

Thailand exports most of its sugar production and actually ranks second in the world (after Brazil) as an exporter.

For the 2021–2022 crop year, sugar cane production for Thailand is forecast to increase to 90 million metric tons, up 43% from 2019/2020. Domestic Thai sugar consumption is increasing, further reducing the country’s export earnings from sugar.

5. China

China’s sugar production is expected to rise by 400,000 tons to 10.1 million tons with the 2022-2023 harvest.

Although China is one of the world’s largest sugar producers, it is a net importer of sugar and domestic demand for sugar has grown significantly during the past few decades. Historically, there has been a large gap between domestic prices, which are held high by the Chinese government to support its farmers, and international sugar prices, which have been falling.

The Chinese domestic sugar sector has had difficulty competing internationally. It has higher production costs for sugar than some of its foreign competitors. China allows for 1.95 million tons of sugar imports a year at a tariff of 15% due to an agreement with the World Trade Organization. Imports beyond that amount are subject to higher tariffs of 50% and require extra permits.

For several years, China even added to that 50% tariff. In 2019–2020, the total tariff for imports over the allowed quota was 85% or even 95%. The tariffs expired in May 2020, and China did not renew them, so they returned to 50%.

How Is Sugar Made?

Sugar is made by extracting the juice of sugar beet or sugar cane plants.

With slight variations in production, this juice can be made into white or brown sugar and can be made into granulated, powdered, or superfine crystals. Some of these variations are available only to the food industry and aren’t carried by supermarkets.

Is Sucrose the Same Thing as Sugar?

Sucrose is the chemical name for sugar. Sucrose is a simple carbohydrate that is produced naturally in all plants.

Sugar beets and sugar cane have the greatest quantities of sucrose of all plants, which is why they are used to produce the processed sugar used around the world.

Is Corn Sugar Really Sugar?

The differences are minor.

Corn naturally contains a lot of starch. This cornstarch is extracted from the plant and made into a solid form of sugar. The cornstarch is glucose, which is transformed by processing into dextrose. Additional processing with an enzyme called sucrase results in high fructose corn syrup, a product widely used in commercial food products. One difference: Corn sugar is always liquid.

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