U.A.E. Sugar Imports at Record High Just as Brazil Running Low

  • Brazil and India sugar exports lagging Kingsman expectations
  • Dubai's Al Khaleej is largest port-based sugar refinery

The United Arab Emirates, home to the world’s largest port-based sugar refinery, imported the most raw sugar on record at the end of 2015 just before Brazil and India started to run low on exports of the sweetener.

Raw sugar destined for the U.A.E. in the fourth quarter totaled 943,000 metric tons, according to shipping data compiled by Platts Kingsman. That’s the most on record since the data series began in the first quarter of 2006 and is up from 726,000 tons a year earlier, the company said. All of the supplies in the most recent fourth quarter came from Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter, according to Kingsman.

“According to the data I have, it’s a record high for a quarter, it’s not usual to have this important quantity,” Claudiu Covrig, senior sugar analyst at Platts Kingsman, said by phone Tuesday. “You usually see the U.A.E. buying more in the fourth quarter, but this volume was very big.”

The U.A.E. is the second-largest importer of raw sugar in the Middle East, with inbound shipments at 1.25 million tons in the current marketing year compared with 1.4 million tons for Iran and 600,000 tons for Saudi Arabia, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. Al Khaleej Sugar Co., based at the Jebel Ali port in Dubai, is among the world’s largest refineries of the sweetener and says it’s the biggest port-based processor.

Al Khaleej Sugar declined to comment on the U.A.E. imports. The plant started production in July 1995 and has capacity to produce more than 2 million tons of refined sugar a year, with storage capacity of 1.5 million tons, according to the company. Al Khaleej and Platts Kingsman are both planning sugar conferences in Dubai next week.

Raw sugar futures traded in New York rallied 18 percent in the final three months of 2015, after falling to a seven-year low in August. White sugar traded in London has dropped less than 1 percent this year while raw sugar has declined 8 percent.

The U.A.E. typically gets raw sugar mostly from Brazil, and sometimes India and Thailand, Covrig said. First-quarter raw sugar exports from Brazil’s central south region, which accounts for about 90 percent of the country’s crop, will be 300,000 tons lower than previously estimated, at 3.2 million tons, partly on lower availability and lower demand, he said.

Global sugar imports will exceed exports through June this year as India finds it more profitable to keep production at home, Covrig said. India’s raw sugar exports will be 200,000 tons this year through September, down from 500,000 tons previously estimated, he said. That will widen the global trade deficit in sugar to 432,000 tons in the first quarter and to 443,000 tons in the second quarter, he said. Kingsman last month estimated the trade deficit at 67,000 tons for the first quarter and 248,000 tons for the second quarter.

“On raws, we see a tighter first quarter and second quarter for the world,” Covrig said.

In the Middle East, Iran has the best chance of getting India’s raw sugar because of a special energy arrangement between the countries, he said.

“With India cutting back on exports and possibly only shipping to Iran in the Middle East, the other countries such as Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq will probably have to look at other origins such as Brazil, Thailand and Australia for supplies,” Covrig said.

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