Cocoa exporters say Ivorian export embargo holding

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Cocoa exporters dismissed a media report that some were preparing to resume payment of export taxes to Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo, saying a de facto embargo on shipments was holding.

Gbagbo has refused to step down after a November election, which most of the world says he lost. Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognised winner, has called for a freeze in cocoa exports to deprive the Gbagbo camp of funds.

However, the Financial Times reported that some exporters were preparing to comply with a demand by Gbagbo that they pay taxes on stocks of cocoa held in-country by the end of the month for fear that it could be confiscated, Reuters reports.

Exporters and other trade sources denied that was the case.
“I would say there’s no change in the exporters’ stance and that exporters do not wish to run the risk of EU sanctions,” a cocoa trade source in London said of European Union measures that forbid financial transactions with pro-Gbagbo entities.

A European source said some in the sector were making plans for “every contingency in an unpredictable situation”, but stressed that an industry pact not to export was holding.
“Nothing has been shipped or is being prepared for shipment. “Gbagbo can say he owns the cocoa, but I don’t think he is going to be able to take control of it,” the source said.

A spokesman for Swiss-based cocoa and chocolate giant Barry Callebaut noted it had suspended cocoa bean and product exports from Ivory Coast, adding: “The situation has not changed, no.”

Noble Group, the Kong Kong-based commodities group whose chief executive was quoted by the FT as saying it would pay the taxes if Gbagbo was still in control by March 31, declined to comment. The FT article said the group later clarified that its actions would be guided by legal advice.

BUMPER CROP HELD IN STORAGE

In a cruel irony for a country that some analysts say is now in the midst of an all-out civil war, Ivory Coast is having a bumper cocoa season. Arrivals to ports were estimated at over 1 million tonnes by the end of last week, over 100 000 tonnes up on the same point of last year.

Yet the Ouattara call, the EU sanctions and the collapse of the local banking system have meant over 450,000 tonnes of stocks are languishing in storage, and concerns about a deterioration in quality are growing by the day.

With some 360,000 tonnes due for export by the end of the month, incurring an export tax (DUS, “droit unique de sortie”) of 17 percent, levies would total close to $200 million at current market prices of around US$3,200 a tonne.

Such a windfall would give Gbagbo’s government ample funding to pay the monthly salaries of army and civil servants, estimated at around US$160 million.

Worsening violence has already claimed over 400 lives and prompted nearly half a million Ivorians to flee their homes.



Northern-based rebels from the 2002-2003 civil war have declared their support for Ouattara and have taken several towns in the west from Gbagbo forces.