April 14, 2011 / 9:21 PM / 6 years ago

Ivory Coast lifts ban on cocoa exports, taxes

ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's President Alassane Ouattara formally lifted a nearly three-month ban on cocoa and coffee exports as well as on related tax payments, his television channel said on Thursday.

"The president of the republic orders that the measures suspending coffee and cocoa exports as well as tax payments be lifted," TCI television said.

The export ban in the world's top cocoa grower had been in place since January 24 as Ouattara sought to deprive his presidential rival, Laurent Gbagbo, of the country's main source of foreign revenues.

Gbagbo was captured by Ouattara's forces on Monday after weeks of fighting, allowing Ouattara to take charge. Ouattara said this week everything was in place for cocoa exports to resume immediately.

However, Ivory Coast exporters have requested that the government ease administrative procedures and allow them to ship the over 450,000 tonnes of cocoa blocked at the country's ports before paying taxes later.

Exporters said on that normal export procedures usually take 15 days but hoped after several months of blockade Ouattara's new government would ease the system and permit exporters to load and ship beans before paying taxes.

"The port is brimming with stocks, that is why we have made this request. Clients are also impatiently waiting and we are afraid that the cocoa could degrade," said a purchase manager at an export firm who requested not to named.

He said they are still waiting for the government's reply.

Ivory Coast Cocoa exporters are expected to restart activities next week but some said full resumption will depend on security and the reopening of banks while farmers await farmgate prices for their mid-crop.

On Wednesday, Ouattara promised to quickly restore security in a nation broken by civil war, and said everything was in place for immediate resumption of cocoa exports.

"We received a notice to restart on Tuesday," said the purchase manager from an international cocoa exporter.

"Most technical and support staff are in place but I wonder how work will be possible if banks are not open. How are we going to pay suppliers if there are no banks. Many checks are still on hold," he added.

Ouattara said the regional Central Bank will resume reopen its Ivory Coast branches early next week to allow commercial banks restart operations by the end of the week.

SECURITY

Another purchase manager of a European cocoa exporter who also requested not to be named, said even though an embargo had been lifted and they have been asked to restart work on Monday, there are still concerns over security.

"We cannot take your cars and trucks out when you run the risk of your car being hijacked, and suppliers trucks are not guaranteed to reach the port," the Abidjan-based manager said.

Despite a gradual return to calm, security remains a concern in Abidjan the commercial capital with marauding armed militia gangs, looting in neighborhoods.

Farmers have started harvesting Ivory Coast mid-crop which runs from April to September and is expected to yield about 200,000 tonnes of cocoa of the country's 1.2 million tonnes yearly output.

Farmers said some major buyers are planning to start buying the mid-crop beans from next week, but are they remain unsure what price they would be paid.

"Last week some local buyers were taking the beans for between 250 CFA Francs ($0.549) and 300 francs per kg, compared with at least 750 CFA francs before the start of the crisis," said Anatole Yao who farms in Daloa, a region producing a quarter of Ivory Coast's national cocoa output.

Another farmer Marcel Aka said farmers are eager to sell their beans for a good price ahead of Easter celebrations.

"Heavy rains have started. The beans should be bought quickly otherwise there will be plenty of rotted beans and a huge loss for us," said Koffi Kouame who farms in Soubre.

Writing by Bate Felix and Silvia Aloisi; Editing by David Gregorio

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