Cocoa exports to resume from Ivory Coast

by Ron Sterk
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KANSAS CITY — The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the Ivory Coast today confirmed the country’s former president Lauren Gbagbo surrendered to forces loyal to president-elect Alassane Ouattara and was in their custody.

Cocoa exports from the Ivory Coast could resume shortly, with estimates ranging from next week to mid-May, according to press reports from Europe, the major buyer of the nation’s cocoa beans and cocoa products, with much depending on how quickly devastated banking and other operations can resume. The European Union lifted sanctions against the Ivory Coast late last week at the request of Mr. Ouattara.

“I can confirm that the former president and his wife are at the Golf Hotel,” said Alain Le Roy, under-secretary-general for U.N. Peacekeeping Operations. “UNOCI (U.N. Operation in the Ivory Coast) has been requested to ensure their security,” he said. Mr. Ouattara had set up his government headquarters at the Golf Hotel while Mr. Gbagbo retained power.

Mr. Le Roy said the surrender was a “very important step in the process,” but that “the crisis is not over yet.” Humanitarian aid has not been able to reach many of the estimated one million people displaced by the recent violence, according to a U.N. statement.

Mr. Le Roy also noted it was up to new President Ouattara to decide what to do with Mr. Gbagbo.

According to press reports Mr. Gbagbo was captured in a joint raid by French forces and fighters loyal to Mr. Ouattara after a weeklong siege on the presidential palace.

Mr. Ouattara won a contested election over Mr. Gbagbo on Nov. 28, 2010, but the latter refused to step down even after election results were certified by the United Nations and other international bodies. Mr. Gbagbo had been in power for 10 years. Political tensions increased since the election before erupting into violence earlier in the year that left as many as 1,500 dead, according to some estimates.

President-elect Ouattara declared an export ban on cocoa and coffee on Jan. 23, with the intent of financially squeezing Mr. Gbagbo, who at the time still controlled the military, courts and airwaves. While some cocoa beans were smuggled out of the Ivory Coast into neighboring countries, especially Ghana, most multinational companies honored the ban, while the European Union imposed trade sanctions.

Between 400,000 and 500,000 tonnes of cocoa beans and products, or more than 30% of the Ivory Coast’s world-leading production, may be in port warehouses awaiting export, according to trade estimates.

The trade became increasingly nervous in late February when a resolution to the political crises appeared no where in sight. The tension had its greatest effect on futures markets. Nearby New York May cocoa bean futures closed at a recent high of $3,733 a tonne on March 3, up 34% from $2,777 on Nov. 29, 2010, the day after the presidential election in the Ivory Coast. As Mr. Ouattara’s forces made relatively quick progress in late March, including the taking of the key cocoa exporting port of San Pedro, futures prices plummeted to a recent low of $2,952 on March 31, down 21% from the high just four weeks earlier.

Although the end of fighting and the expected resumption of cocoa exports from the Ivory coast could quickly increase cocoa bean and product supplies with the potential effect of pressuring prices, New York cocoa bean futures ended higher on Monday.

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