The China Sugar Association has said that the country’s sugar consumption in 2003 is likely to be below forecasts at around 9.5m tonnes after SARS weakened demand in the food and drinks industry.

China’s sugar imports are forecast to fall after the country posted record production of 10.5m to10.6m tonnes in 2002/03, and output is expected to rise further in 2003/04, reported Reuters.

In the first five months of the year, China’s sugar imports fell 49.2% to 227,609 tonnes compared with a year earlier.

“SARS has had an impact on sugar demand in food and it’s hard to compensate for the loss,” a senior official at the industry authority told Reuters.

The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome kept many people away from public places and restaurants for several weeks.

China’s sugar demand is seen at around 9.5m tonnes this year, compared to a previous forecast of between 9.8m and 10m tonnes.

The sugar association official told Reuters it was too early to tell how much sugar China would produce in 2003/04, but some traders expect its will hit another record of around 11m tonnes.