Cuban sugar output behind schedule as season enters final stretch


HAVANA, March 13 (Reuters) - The head of Cuba's state sugar monopoly AZCUBA said on Tuesday that output of raw sugar was 18 percent behind schedule with just a month of optimal harvesting conditions left in the season.

The industry planned to produce 1.5 million metric tons of raw sugar during the harvest and export 920,000 metric tons, according to a power point presentation by Economy Minister Alejandro Gil Fernandez presented at a government meeting in December.

Julio Garcia Perez, president of AZCUBA, told a closed-door meeting of government officials on Tuesday that mill breakdowns, the late arrival of parts such as tires for harvesters and trucks, rain in some parts of the country and other problems were to blame, according to coverage of the meeting in Wednesday's Communist party daily, Granma.

Harvesting begins in November and is in full swing by January as yields increase through mid-April when Summer humidity and rainfall set in.

The shortfall means some mills will now remain open, minimal conditions permitting, into May.

The Caribbean island, once a major sugar exporter, produced just a million metric tons of sugar in 2017-2018, due to inclement weather.

In 2016-2017 production was 1.8 million metric tons of raw sugar and exports 1.1 million metric tons, according to the International Sugar Organization.

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

Sugar was long Cuba's most important industry and export, with output reaching 8 million metric tons in 1991. It now ranks behind sectors such as services, remittances, tourism and pharmaceuticals.

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