China is likely to become the world's largest sugar importer by 2020 as consumption grows along with incomes, said Commonwealth Bank of Australia in a report on Wednesday.
CBA said increased urbanisation and a Westernisation of diets would see sugar consumption rising rapidly in countries with low rates of sugar consumption per person such as China.
Per capita sugar demand in China is just 7.6kg per person per year, the report cited the United Nation's FAO as saying, while in developed Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea the per capita sugar demand is 29kg/person/year and 36kg/person/year, respectively.
Some developed Western nations displayed considerably higher demand, with Australia at 47kg/person/year and the United States at 67.6kg/person/year, it said.
China's National Bureau of Statistics earlier this week that the country's urban population, now 51 percent of the total population, had for the first time exceeded the rural population.
More than 100 million rural Chinese people would settle in towns and cities over the next decade as a new generation of migrant workers turn their backs on farming, the National Population and Family Planning Commission said in a report released late last year.
Wages for migrants have been rising in recent years.
In its favoured growth profile, CBA forecast growth in China's per capita consumption of sugar at 4.4 percent annually over the next few decades, doubling the 2000-2007 annual growth rate of 2.2 percent.
"Under this scenario, total Chinese sugar consumption (would) rise by 63 percent from 2010 to 2020 (and) by 2030, total Chinese sugar demand would be some 2.6 times 2010 demand" it said.
China's sugar consumption was estimated at 13.5 million tonnes in 2010/11 crop year by the China Sugar Association.
China targets a sugar output of 16 million tonnes by 2015, according to its 12th five-year plan for the food industry from 2011, aiming to meet 85 percent of domestic sugar demand with self-supply.
CBA said China's sugar imports would rise to 4-5 million tonnes by 2020.
China imported 2.42 million tonnes of sugar in the first 11 months of 2011, up 48 percent from a year earlier, Chinese customs data showed.
Under CBA's more conservative scenario, China's sugar consumption could still swell by 31 percent between 2010 and 2020.
Although China will not be forced to tap additional imports for the smaller expansion in demand, "it means that any Chinese production scares (i.e. due to weather or pests) will have a more pronounced impact on international trade flows and therefore on global sugar price volatility," it added.