Ivory Coast makes 1st cocoa export since January

Port officials said Monday they have loaded Ivory Coast's first shipment of beans in several months as the world's largest cocoa producer resumed exportation now that the democratically elected president finally has taken office.

Cocoa exports came to a halt in mid-January when internationally recognized president Alassane Ouattara called for an export ban to starve his rival financially, causing cocoa prices to skyrocket.

Longtime leader Laurent Gbagbo had refused to cede power after losing the election, and the battle for the presidency left hundreds dead and nearly pushed the country back to civil war.

Ouattara finally took the oath of office on Friday, a month after Gbagbo was ultimately forced from the presidential residence by pro-Ouattara fighters backed by French and U.N. forces.

"Traffic has indeed resumed," port official Idrissa Dosso said Monday, adding that the ship with 1,700 tons of beans was going to the country's main cocoa port of San Pedro to load more beans next.

Most major exporters, including American firms Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland, as well as Swiss firm Barry Callebaut, complied with Ouattara's cocoa ban because the European Union had put sanctions against Ivory Coast's ports, effectively preventing any exports from leaving the country.

"It was a shock and international prices hit the highest they had been in more than three decades," said Gary Mead, editor of World Crops, which tracks agricultural commodities including cocoa.

About 500,000 tons were held up during the conflict, roughly a third of the country's projected crop of 1.4 million tons. But because Ivory Coast had a far larger crop this year then last, the world supply is on track to return to normal now that exports have resumed Mead said.

The E.U. sanctions were one of a series of efforts by the international community to financially isolate Gbagbo's government. The United States froze the assets and issued a travel ban on a list of close Gbagbo allies. But the greatest damage was perhaps caused by the regional central bank, which cut Gbagbo off from state coffers, then prevented all international banks from transferring money in or out of the country.

Government statistics show Ivory Coast exported $2.53 billion worth of cocoa in 2009. Ivory Coast's production has been declining, from 38 percent of global production in 2007-2008 to 33 percent in 2009-2010, according to the International Cocoa Organization.


Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.