LONDON — Leading organisations in the global cocoa industry on Tuesday expressed their "increasing concern" over the violence in Ivory Coast, the biggest producer of the commodity used to make chocolate.
The European Cocoa Association and confectionery grouping Caobisco, both based in Brussels, and the Federation of Cocoa Commerce in Britain said that they "deeply regret" that a solution to the unrest had not been reached.
"Caobisco, ECA and FCC members witness with increasing concern further deterioration of the situation in Cote d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), and fully share in the despair of the Ivorian population," they said in a joint statement.
"We deeply regret that a political solution has not been found yet, and we continue to commend efforts for a speedy restoration of peace."
The trio said: "As previously reported, our members' operations in Cote d'Ivoire in terms of procurement and processing of cocoa are severely hindered, while exports of cocoa have come to a standstill."
And they added: "Despite these difficult circumstances, the members of Caobisco, ECA & FCC remain committed to the millions of people in cocoa farming communities whose livelihoods depend on cocoa."
Violence has escalated in Abidjan in the once booming west African country where at least 400 have been killed since the disputed election, according to the United Nations.
Ivory Coast is the world's biggest producer of cocoa and exported about 1.2 million tonnes in the 2009/2010 crop year, according to data from the International Cocoa Organisation.
The second-biggest cocoa producer is neighbouring Ghana, followed by Indonesia.
The statement came as troops loyal to Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo were holding key positions in Abidjan after repulsing forces of his rival for the presidency in a key battle for control of the country's economic capital.
Pro-Gbagbo forces held on to strategic military barracks in the northern suburb of Adjame on Tuesday after the heaviest day of fighting since a disputed November election plunged the country into violence.
Forces backing internationally recognised president Alassane Ouattara met fierce resistance as they attempted to move south through the city from their powerbase in the northern suburbs in the direction of central Abidjan.
Gbagbo is refusing to cede power to Ouattara, and mediation efforts have so far failed to budge the outgoing president who last week rejected an African Union endorsement of his rival's presidency.
Ouattara's appeal for a halt to cocoa exports -- which was extended until March 31 on Monday -- has mainly been respected by major dealers and chocolate makers. The move has been accompanied by a European Union embargo on Ivorian ports.
However, Gbagbo ordered the resumption of cocoa exports last week and warned of financial penalties for multinationals that do not follow his ruling by March 31.
And the head of the country's cocoa-coffee management board, Gilbert Ano N'Guessan, also warned they might seize cocoa stocks if export taxes are not paid.
At the start of the month, cocoa prices had rocketed to the highest levels in more than 30 years on the back of simmering unrest in Ivory Coast. But the market has since pulled lower on profit-taking.
"Cocoa futures prices seem to have declined in part with the sentiment in a number of other commodities," said Sucden analyst Brenda Sullivan on Tuesday.
"The political risks in Ivory Coast may continue to provide a background of uncertainty about supplies."
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