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Advances in the building of an international product identity for non-centrifugal sugar

Advances in the building of an international product identity for non-centrifugal sugar

The World Customs Organization (WCO), in the meeting No. 40 of July 2007 of its Harmonized System (HS) Committee, approved the creation of a new subheading within the heading “Sugars”, latter specified as subheading 1701.13, which specifically refers to non-centrifugal sugar (NCS) (WCO, 2007). The proposal of Colombia made in November 2003, to create a customs code for panela, is a crucial step in the international recognition of NCS as a discrete and unique product and to overcome the widespread confusion between the different sugars products, with different degree of purification and colour. NCS has different names in different countries, and not always it is recognized that these names refer to the same product. After several amendments and changes the current definition of NCS by the WCO is published in their 2012 HS Nomenclature Edition and detailed below.

WCO Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System 0417-2012E

Chapter Heading/Subheading Definition
17 1701.13 Cane sugar obtained without centrifugation, whose content of sucrose by weight, in the dry state, corresponds to a polarimeter reading of 69° or more but less than 93°. The product contains only natural anhedral microcrystals, of irregular shape, not visible to the naked eye, which are surrounded by residues of molasses and other constituents of sugar cane


Generally, the amendments to the HS Convention become binding for all Contracting Parties two years after they are notified by the Secretary General of the WCO. However, the decisions concerning the management and interpretation of the Convention are generally deemed to have been accepted by all Contracting Parties two months after the decision by the HS Committee. So, the US Customs and Border Protection notified in January, that from February 3, 2012 “Chapter 17 of the U.S. HTS will occur to separate the classification of non-centrifugal sugar such as panella, from other (centrifugal) raw cane sugars” (CBP 2012). The misspelling of panela and the failure to include other important names for NCS, like jaggery, gur, kokuto or rapadura, for example, points to the challenge ahead in establishing a product identity to non-centrifugal sugar. It will be important for countries where non-centrifugal sugar is significant, to make the specific link between this international norm and its local product.

Another recent step in the process of building a product identity for NCS is the decision to create a Codex Alimentarius food quality norm for panela. It is also an initiative of the government of Colombia, part of its long range strategy to valorize NCS. The FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius is an important reference for national food quality systems, as well as for foreign trade. The proposed norm has been submitted for observations to the international community in January 2012 and will be considered by the Codex Commission this year, for adoption by the 36th Session of the Commission in 2013 (FAO/WHO 2012). This will align the Codex with the production and trade statistics FAO has produced since 1961. The FAOSTAT carries panela under the code 0163 as “sugar, non-centrifugal, generally derived from sugar cane through traditional methods, without centrifugation” (FAO 1994).

The principal defining criteria for these sugars then, both for the WCO and FAO, is the production process, and not physical or chemical characteristics. This is sensible because of the wide variations in the presentation of NCS, many of them produced by cottage industries, which can be solid (“lump sugar”) or granulated, with wide ranges of its principal constituents (sacharose, reducing sugars, ashes, minerals).

The difficulty non-centrifugal-sugar-producing countries face in aligning their definition to a international agreed one are illustrated by the case of India, which, for example, has a food quality norm for gur or jaggery. It states that these names means “the product obtained by boiling or processing juice pressed out of sugarcane or extracted from Palmyra palm, date palm or coconut palm. It shall be free from substances deleterious to health and shall conform to the following analytical standards, on dry weight basis : …” (Ministry of Health and Family Welfare 2011). That is, it includes sugars obtained for palms and does not specify non-centrifugation as a key criterion, in variance with the new international agreements.

The broader challenge is to establish non-centrifugal sugars as a legitimate and more convenient alternative to conventional centrifugal sugars, which means overcoming the negative view the traditional sugar industry has of non-centrifugal sugars (primitive, low-grade), exemplified by the definition of sugar used in the International Sugar Agreement of 1992 : “Sugar” means sugar in any of its recognized commercial forms derived from sugar cane or sugar beet, including edible and fancy molasses, syrups and any other form of liquid sugar, but does not include final molasses or low-grade types of non-centrifugal sugar produced by primitive methods (International Sugar Agreement 1992).


CBP, 2012 Sugar Harmonized Tariff Schedule Changes,

Codex Alimentarius Commission, 2012,

FAO, Definition and Classification of Commodities, 3. Sugar Crops and Sweeteners and Derived Products, 1994,

FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme, Codex Alimentarius Commission, 35th Session, Rome, Italy, 2-7 July 2012, Matters referred to the Commission by Codex Committees and Task Forces, (April to May 2012), Agenda Item 9 CX/CAC 12/35/10-Add.2 ,…CAC/cac35_10_add2e.pdf

International Sugar Agreement 1992

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011,

World Customs Organization, 2007,

World Customs O 2011,

Panela Monitor, July 2012