Surplus sugar in India

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Will price control create surplus production in agriculture sector? The Indian government’s price controls have created an unsustainable sugar glut, and now New Delhi wants to dump it on the already struggling world market for the commodity.

India is the world’s second-largest producer and biggest consumer of sugar. Thanks to strict controls of imports, exports and prices, the country generally produces all it needs.

In a holdout from an era of central planning, New Delhi sets the minimum price for cane, and to keep sugar-cane farmers sweet with the government, it keeps raising that price. But end-user sugar prices are free to fluctuate and currently are so low that refiners say they lose money on every teaspoon they sell.

“Stocks get added every year, but there are not as many takers,” said refiner Amit Agarwal, who runs sales operations in a sugar mill in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Pointing to a warehouse packed with 77,500 metric tons of sugar he can’t sell, Mr. Agarwal said his mill is under pressure to pay farmers on time. “But where is the money to pay them?” he said.

Refiners are required to buy everything the cane farmers bring them at a government-set price. But because they only have to pay the farmers after they sell it, they are hoarding the sugar and waiting for a better price—or better incentives.

The result: piles and piles of sugar, in warehouses all over India. Mr. Agarwal’s five warehouses all have sugar bags piled 34 feet high. At last count, in late May, Indian refiners had a stockpile of 13 million tons of sugar—more than all the sugar consumed in the U.S. last year.

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