Stakeholders in the sugar industry on Monday arrived at a consensus that India could export 7-8 million tonnes (mt) of sugar by April 30 in the next season starting October 1. 

In a meeting called by the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) in which representatives of the Food Ministry, Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority, All India Sugar Trade Association (AISTA), Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA), Maharashtra Sugar Mills Federation and National Cooperative Sugar Factories Federation took part, the stakeholders also agreed that there will be a mandatory review of the demand-supply situation taking into account the final estimate of sugar production for the next season. 

Goyal to take final decision

“We can export 7 mt of sugar next season by April 30. Exports will be subject to mandatory review in February taking into consideration the interest of domestic consumers,” said Praful Vithalani, President, AISTA. 

Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal will take a final call on the exports after going through the minutes of the meeting called by the DGFT. The meeting unanimously agreed that sugar production next season would be 36 mt going by the current situation, though a final picture will be available in February. 

At least 70 per cent of those who attended the meeting favour allowing sugar exports under the open general licence (OGL) but ISMA favoured a mill-wise quota. 

If a mill-wise export quota were to be announced by the Centre, then it should not be tradeable, the participants said, since it would result in two contracts. One would paper licence quota and the other one matching the international market price. This could result in India ending up missing the export window available until April before Brazilian sugar enters the market.  

The stakeholders are of the view that India should take advantage of the current prices on the InterContinental Exchange (ICE), New York, for March contracts. On Monday, March contracts were trading at 17.88 cents a pound (₹32,400 a tonne). 

“Our carryover stock as of October 1 this year will be 6 mt compared with 8.5 mt in October last year. Taking into account an additional diversion of 1.5 mt of sugar for ethanol, we have to make up for a lesser availability of 4 mt. Thus, it will be necessary to review the production and export situation in March,” Vithalani said. 

This season, a record of over 11 mt of sugar has been exported with the Centre capping the exports from June 1 at 10 mt. However, it later allowed shipments of an additional 1.2 mt, most of them raw sugar.

Rahil Shaikh, Managing Director, MEIR Commodities India, said 1-1.2 mt of sugar can be exported every month between November and March.  

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, sugarcane production this year is expected to be a record 465.05 million tonnes. The Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) has estimated next season’s sugar production at 35.5 mt, but a section of the industry has projected production at 37 mt. This is after 4.5 mt of sugar production is diverted towards the production of ethanol. 

Centre’s concerns

The Centre’s concern in March-April will be the availability of ample sugar for domestic consumption. Industry sources said domestic consumption is on the rise and is projected to be 27.5 mt next season against 26.55 mt this season. 

“The OGL format for exports will be better since exporters can ship sugar when the situation is right for them,” said Shaikh.  

 Prices seen under pressure

Meanwhile, UK-based diversified global financial services platform Marex said reports of India exporting 5 mt had filled any supply gap the global market might have had. With projections of a higher Brazil crop, sugar prices could be under pressure, it said. 

Last week, Marex said Indian mill may not sell raw sugar unless spot prices in New York were 18.50 cents a pound (₹33,550 a tonne) or above. “In a couple of weeks’ time, spot NY will be based on March rather than October, i.e. some 35 points lower than October. So, we are not likely to run into a wall of selling, especially as a release of 5 mt might have a bullish effect on Indian domestic price,” it said. 

Meanwhile, white sugar is ruling at a huge premium of over $100 a tonne with December contracts ruling at $540.90 a tonne (₹44,125). 

Maharashtra competitive

“It will be better for mills located around ports to export sugar than those in interior parts,” said Shaikh. 

Maharashtra mills are quoting sugar at least ₹2,000 a tonne lower than Uttar Pradesh units. The trade is of the view that the industry as a whole can coordinate to export sugar rather than work in silos. It is of the view that mills are likely to take advantage of the current situation in the global market.

 Currently, the average price of sugar offered by Uttar Pradesh mills is ₹36,933 a tonne compared with ₹35,710 quoted by Maharashtra mills.