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Ghana, the world’s second-largest cocoa grower, is on the verge of losing millions in foreign exchange from the export of cocoa due to an ongoing dispute over shore-handling charges between the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) and shipping lines.

“The situation is affecting us badly, but we are determined to solve the issue between GPHA and the shipping lines,” a top official of Cocoa Marketing Company (CMC), the firm responsible for the sale and export of cocoa beans, told the Business and Financial Times.

The official who pleaded anonymity said Safmarine Container Lines, a Belgian shipping line, has failed to make any shipments of cocoa over the past week due to the dispute.

He declined to give details of who is responsible for the payment of the shore-handling charges to GPHA. According the Dow Jones newswire, A.P. Moeller-Maersk, owner of Maersk Line the world's largest container-shipping company by volume also said it had failed to conclude any shipments of cocoa over the last week.

“We do not know when cocoa shipments will resume,” Kenni Simon Skotte, General Manager for trade between Europe and West Africa, said. According to COCOBOD figures, cocoa purchases hit 411,696 tonnes by December 1 since the start of the 2011/12 season on October 14, up 9.4 percent over the corresponding seven-week period last season.

Ghana is aiming to produce 850,000-900,000 tonnes this season after hitting a record of over 1 million tonnes last season -- a production figure that analysts say was supported by smuggled cocoa from Ivory Coast.

Cocoa prices have dropped 36 percent this year after production exceeded demand by 341,000 tonnes for the 2010-11 season according to the International Cocoa Organisation.

Analysts have said ample cocoa supplies from West African countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana, which supply half of the world's cocoa, have been mainly responsible for recent price declines in futures markets.

“Periodic disruptions will happen from time to time in West Africa, and it's possible that we could see cocoa future prices lift temporarily as a result of this dispute," Edward George, soft-commodities analyst at Paris-based pan-African banking group, Ecobank, told Dow Jones.

“But ultimately, we expect prices to remain volatile and that prices still have some way to fall,” he added. A recent report by financial-service provider Rabobank expects ICE traded cocoa prices in the fourth quarter of 2011 to average US$2,400 per metric tonne.

Furthermore, the bank predicts cocoa prices in the first and second quarters of 2012 to hit US$2,350 per tonne and US$2,450 per tonne respectively. For the third and fourth quarters of 2012, cocoa prices could hit US$2,350 per tonne and US$2,300 per tonne respectively.

According to the report, titled “Outlook 2012 – Down, But not Out”, an abundant supply of cocoa beans and better expectations for the 2011/12 crops are expected to lead prices lower in 2012.

The report said weak economic growth in 2012 is expected to lead to flat demand for chocolate confectionery. However, confectionery could be protected from price fluctuations due to high demand for cocoa-powder products.

Rabobank has anticipated grinds in the EU and US to be lower than 2011 levels, although global grinds are expected to be up 3.7 percent due to demand for cocoa-powder products such as ice cream and health supplements.

The report said that quality changes by the new government in the Ivory Coast could impact cocoa trade. According to Rabobank, the government has already guaranteed farmers a cocoa price of between 50 and 60 percent of the international terminal price, but this is expected to have a token impact on prices.

Source: Michael Sarpong BRUCE/B&FT

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