ORLANDO, FLA. – Although there may be some “bumps” along the way, analysts speaking at the International Sweetener Colloquium on Feb. 12 expect adequate sugar supplies in the United States during the remainder of the 2017-18 marketing year that ends Sept. 30.
Beet sugar supplies mostly are committed for the rest of the year, but cane supplies are not as tight, as long as Mexico can ship its quota of raw cane sugar to U.S. refineries in coming months.
“There’s no reason for Mexico not to meet its obligation,” said Craig Ruffolo, vice-president and commodity expert, McKeany-Flavell Company, referring to the export quota outlined in last year’s revised anti-dumping and countervailing duty suspension agreements between Mexico and the United States that called for 70% of Mexico’s exports to be raw sugar (less than 99.2 polarity) for U.S. cane refiners.
After a slow start during the October-December quarter, “we’re seeing a surge in imports from Mexico,” said Frank Jenkins, president of JSG Commodities. “It will be difficult for Mexico to relinquish its export share.” He said shipments should be sufficient to avoid a tariff-rate quota increase by the U.S. government in April.
U.S. sugar imports from Mexico during the October-December period (the first quarter of the 2017-18 marketing year) were the lowest during the North American Free Trade Agreement era that began for sugar in 2008. Part of the issue, the analysts said, was that after the revised suspension agreements were signed last summer, Mexican sugar mills that were accustomed to producing refined sugar had to adjust to making raw sugar (below 99.2 polarity) and had to increase the amount of raw sugar in the export quota to the United States (70% raws and 30% refined compared with 47% raws and 53% refined in the original suspension agreements).
Mr. Ruffolo said that about a dozen sugar mills in Mexico already were attempting to produce sugar under 99.2 polarity for export to the United States.
A representative from the Mexican Sugar and Alcohol Association at the colloquium also said the Mexican mills had made the needed adjustments to meet the raw sugar export requirement.
However, it’s “almost inevitable we won’t have some stumbles,” Mr. Jenkins said, such as whether the U.S sugar industry “wants to make an issue of it” if a cargo of raw sugar from Mexico arrives in the United States that is over 99.2 polarity.
The analysts also noted that the suspension agreements, which set minimum export prices at 23c a lb for raw sugar and 28c a lb for refined, both f.o.b. Mexico, had effectively raised the minimum price for U.S. raw sugar to around 26c a lb when freight was added to the Mexican minimum price.
Mexican sugar production, forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at 6.1 million tonnes, actual weight, for 2017-18, was sufficient to meet the U.S. export quota, the analysts said. Mexico may even be able to come up with more sugar, assuming rains don’t come early in cane producing areas, Mr. Jenkins said.
But the analysts also cautioned that, even though raw sugar supplies were adequate, if imports of raw sugar came in much later than expected, U.S. cane refiners could have capacity issues producing a sufficient volume of refined cane sugar. They also said warm weather could increase deterioration of some U.S. sugar beet piles, which could reduce the domestic sugar supply. U.S. beet sugar production was forecast by the U.S.D.A. at a record 5.219 million tons, raw value, for the current marketing year.
The analysts also said they were “less optimistic” about sugar demand as the U.S.D.A., even though the U.S.D.A. reduced its forecast in the Feb. 8 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates report. The U.S.D.A. forecast sugar deliveries for food use in 2017-18 at 12.325 million tons, down 75,000 tons from its January forecast but still up 1.8% from 2016-17, which was estimated at 12.102 million tons, down 25% from January but up 1.9% from 2015-16. They suggested the increases should more closely mirror annual population growth of 1% to 1.5%.
In addition, Mr. Ruffolo said there have been “a lot” of new product introductions, but many had lower sugar content that could cannibalize existing products with higher levels of sugar. He also said there were fewer indications of reformulations to sugar away from high-fructose corn syrup than there were a few years ago.