Food minister KV Thomas on Monday said he could allow millers to export more sugar, but that decision is likely to be based on his ministry’s estimates of production, rather than that of the manufacturers or farm minister Sharad Pawar’s.
Thomas on Monday stuck to his production estimate of 24 million tonnes, contrary to Pawar’s 26 million tonnes. Projections made by the Indian Sugar Mills Association, the top body of private millers, are in line with Pawar’s estimates.
“I am not against sugar exports. We may allow some more exports. But any decision will have to be based on scientific estimates of (production and availability),” Thomas told HT. India is headed for a second straight year of surplus, with sugar prices ruling steady between Rs 31-32 a kilo and rising only 0.23% in the past half-year.
Pawar has disputed the food ministry’s sugar output estimates, citing higher production and arguing for more exports. While Pawar’s ministry is responsible for putting out cane estimates, the food ministry, which Thomas heads, works out the figures for sugar output.
Domestic demand of the sweetener in India— the world’s largest consumer and second-largest producer—overs around 21.5 mn tonnes. Varying estimates of sugar production—at a time of runaway inflation—are tricky. Allowing too much export could stoke domestic prices, while India’s middle-class wants sugar cheap. On the other hand, curbing exports of surplus stocks affects millers’ profitability and their ability to pay farmers. “So, there has to be a balance,” Thomas said.