Ask the Analyst: What Types of Sugar Does China Import?

Insight Focus

  • China is one of the largest sugar importers in the world.
  • Liquid sugar and premix imports have been growing in import share.
  • Will this continue in 2023?

China is one of the largest sugar importers in the world. It imported 6m tonnes of sugar-related products (in sugar content) in 2022, via 5 legitimate channels. These sugars pay zero to 50% import duties.

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The traditional ways are raws and whites imports, accounted for 87% of sugar imports in 2022, 5% lower than 92% in 2021. These sugars pay either 15% duty under quota system or 50% duty under AILs system. We think these imports should continue in 2023 with current policy unchanged.

The balance 13% goes to liquid sugar and premix powder, mostly paying zero duty into China.

Serendipity or Sword of Damocles: Liquid Sugar and Premix Powder

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Liquid sugar (syrups) and premix powders are taxed at 30%, or 12% if they are flavored or colored. But the duty will drop to zero if they come from Asean Origins under CAFTA (China-Asean Free Trade Agreement). In 2022, most of the liquid sugar and premix were from Asean and 85% from Thailand.

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The average cost of liquid sugar imports in 2022 was 4749 RMB/mt in dry weight, making it the cheapest sugar in the domestic market, following with premix powder – 4957 RMB/mt.

One risk to watch is the customs reclassification of the product and therefore change of import duty. Since Sept 1 last year, the customs has issued a notice classifying premix powder with 90% or more white sugar as white sugar imports. The result did not meet the expectations of the domestic sugar industry, because most premix powder contains 88% or less white sugar.

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Sweet Cake Flour for Animal Feeding

The customs notice also mentioned another product – sweet cake flour for animal feeding with sugar content up to 88%. But the import volume of this product is difficult to track, estimated at 50k to 100k tonnes.

Besides these legitimate imports, smuggling used to be a key route, with over 3m tonnes sugar smuggled into China during 2015/16 season. However, now sugar smuggling has waned to minimum because of tighter border controls and falling profits.

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Rosa Li

Rosa graduated from Jinan University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing. Rosa joined Czarnikow in 2014 and has been an analyst for 7 years in our Guangzhou office managing the data capture, analysis and visualisation within the Chinese sugar markets utilising her skills in SQL, Python and VBA while also providing content for our platform Czapp. Rosa is also responsible for the localization of Czapp in China – Czapp WeChat, she also assists with the commercial marketing in China and works towards strategy with the trading team.

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