By Nigel Hunt
LONDON (Reuters) - India is unlikely to need to import sugar in the 2016/17 season despite a drop in production, Abinash Verma, director general of the Indian Sugar Mills Association said on Tuesday.
"If the production number we are suggesting at the moment comes out correct, or comes close, I don't think we will need to import," he told Reuters on the sidelines of a sugar seminar hosted by the International Sugar Organization.
Some analysts have forecast that India would import sugar, with the country's consumption likely to outpace production for the first time in seven years.
Verma said ISMA was forecasting a crop of 23.4 million tonnes in 2016/17, down about 7 percent from a year ago as back-to-back droughts ravaged cane crops in the top producing western state of Maharashtra.
He said more information on the level of production in India would be available by the end of January.
"The biggest question will be are our estimates good and how much deviation there will be from our estimates," he said.
Verma said production in India should rebound in the 2017/18 season, with the outlook improved by recent rains which have boosted water reserves.
India's government has estimated production in Maharashtra fell to 5.5 million tonnes in 2016/17, while some analysts expect a rebound to 9.0 million or possibly 10.0 million tonnes in 2017/18.
"Maharashtra can move from 5.5 million to 9 (million), whether they can move to 10 (million) we will have to wait and see," Verma said, adding there were some concerns whether sufficient seed would be available to reach the higher total.
Verma said production in Karnataka should also rebound, potentially climbing by around 1.0 to 1.5 million tonnes, while in Uttar Pradesh there was scope for it to rise by around 500,000 tonnes.
(Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Mark Potter)