Ivory Coast’s ports will reopen this week, paving the way for a swift restart of cocoa shipments from the world’s top grower, said a spokesman for President Alassane Ouattara.
Economic activity in the West African state had been frozen since late January due to a bloody power struggle that ended with the arrest on Monday of Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to step down after losing a November election.
“Port activity will start this week and we expect the first boats to arrive starting next week, with exports proceeding normally,” Patrick Achi, Ouattara’s spokesman, said.
Ivory Coast produces about a third of the world’s cocoa — the raw material in chocolate, and turmoil there since the poll drove world cocoa prices to their highest in years, Reuters reports.
Ouattara said on Tuesday in his first news conference since Gbagbo’s arrest that everything was in place for cocoa exports to restart “immediately”, but that restoring security in the country was a priority.
French and United Nations forces were helping Ouattara’s army patrol the ports of Abidjan and San Pedro — the country’s two main outlets for cocoa to world markets — while Ouattara’s soldiers also tried to secure other parts of the city.
“At the port of Abidjan, we’re working jointly with the Licorne (French military) forces, and in San Pedro it is jointly with UNOCI (the United Nations mission in Ivory Coast),” Achi said, adding some 500,000 tonnes of cocoa and cocoa products were stockpiled at the two ports awaiting shipment.
Exports stopped abruptly in late January after Ouattara called a ban and the European Union imposed shipping restrictions, moves aimed at pressuring Gbagbo to leave power by squeezing his access to funds.
Industry data showed some 475,000 tonnes of cocoa stockpiled at the ports by early February — a figure that is likely to have risen since as beans trickled into the dock from the countryside without ships to load them.
Ivory Coast produces about 1.2 million tonnes each season. Ouattara said on Wednesday he also expected banking activity to resume next week after the reopening of regional Central Bank offices — an important step in reviving cocoa trade.
Foreign banks including Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, and Citibank suspended operations in Ivory Coast in February. Officials from those banks declined to comment on when their operations might resume, saying they were monitoring the situation.
A shipping source said a chemical tanker and an oil tanker were already outside the port of Abidjan awaiting pilots to guide the vessels in.
A unit of Danish shipping and oil group A.P Moller-Maersk said one of its vessels in the region had postponed calling at Abidjan port on Wednesday.
“We had to cancel that because it is not possible for our customers to bring cargo and documentation to the port,” said Anders Boenaes, vice president for Africa trades at Maersk.
“We run on weekly schedules, so if it was not today in Abidjan the next attempt will be on Wednesday next week.”
Boenaes said another vessel may try and call at San Pedro at the weekend. Shipper Safmarine said it had also postponed bringing vessels into Ivorian ports.
International trade houses looking to export cocoa also said they were waiting for clarification from the Ivorian authorities on the process for resuming exports.
“You can’t export for the simple fact you can’t pay any tax, if you can’t pay tax you can’t load cocoa,” a dealer at an international trade house said.