The first production of sugar from sugar-cane took place in India. Alexander the Great's companions reported seeing "honey produced without the intervention of bees" and it remained exotic in Europe until the Arabs started cultivating it in Sicily and Spain. Only after the Crusades did it begin to rival honey as the sweetener in Europe. The Spanish began cultivating sugar cane in the West Indies in 1506, and in Cuba in 1523. It was first cultivated in Brazil 1532 by the Portuguese.



Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAOStat

Most cane sugar comes from countries with warm climates, such as Brazil, India, China and Australia (in descending order). In 2001/2002 there was over twice as much sugar produced in developing countries as in developed countries. The greatest quantity of sugar is produced in Latin America, the United States and the Caribbean nations, and in the Far East.

Beet sugar comes from regions with cooler climates: northwest and eastern Europe, northern Japan, plus some areas in the United States including California. The beet growing season ends with the start of harvesting around September. Harvesting and processing continues until March in some cases. The duration of harvesting and processing is influenced by the availability of processing plant capacity, and weather - harvested beet can be laid up until processed but frost damaged beet becomes effectively unprocessable.

The European Union (EU) has become the world's second-largest sugar exporter. The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU sets maximum quotas for members' production to match supply and demand, and a price. Excess production quota is exported (approx 5 million tonnes in 2003). Part of this is "quota" sugar which is subsidised from industry levies, the remainder (approx half) is "C quota" sugar which is sold at market price without subsidy.

These subsidies and a high import tariff make it difficult for other countries to export to the EU states, or compete with it on world markets. The U.S. sets high sugar prices to support its producers with the effect that many sugar consumers have switched to corn syrup (beverage manufacturers) or moved out of the country (candy makers).

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