January 29, 2018 / 3:23 PM / 10 months ago

Cuba cancels sugar exports; Hurricane Irma, January rains hit harvest

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba canceled sugar exports this month and is struggling to meet local demand after rain all but washed out harvesting, the head of the state sugar monopoly said over the weekend.

The president of Azcuba, Orlando Celso Garcia, told a trade union federation meeting on Saturday that the harvest was at 31 percent of the raw sugar planned through January, according to the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper.

Hurricane Irma, which damaged cane in September, had also disrupted inputs for the industry, Celso Garcia added.

“Today, of the 53 mills scheduled to be in operation, only 29 have opened, and of those 14 are shut down due to rain,” he was quoted as stating.

A local sugar trader said he had never seen such a bad January.

“We had to cancel all our shipments,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Celso Garcia was quoted as stating “we reorganized the boats coming for exports and are applying for a case of force majeure to cover the losses.”

Azcuba planned to produce 1.6 million tonnes of raw sugar this season, down from the previous season’s 1.8 million tonnes, according to a local expert with access to industry information, requesting anonymity.

Due to the hurricane most mills were not scheduled to open until around the New Year, several weeks later than usual. The harvest usually runs from November through April when the weather is normally dry and temperatures cool. The cane plants generally yield the most sugar from January through March.

Rainfall has been above the historic average since November and particularly so in January, the local weather service reported.

It can take up to two weeks for milling to recover after heavy rains due to rustic conditions in the plantations and lower yields.

Cuba consumes between 600,000 and 700,000 tonnes of sugar a year and has an agreement to sell China 400,000 tonnes annually. It sells the rest on the open market.

Sugar was long Cuba’s most important industry and export with output reaching 8 million tonnes in 1991, but today it ranks eighth in exports behind sectors such as tourism, tobacco, nickel and pharmaceuticals.

Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by David Gregorio

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