Cocoa prices jumped by as much as 7 percent Monday after the internationally acknowledged president-elect of Ivory Coast ordered a one-month halt to exports.
Alassane Ouattara on Monday ordered the one-month halt to exports of cocoa and coffee in an effort to choke off funding for his rival Laurent Gbagbo, who declared himself president despite international consensus that he lost elections Nov. 28.
Producers and exporters who violate the ban would be considered to be "financing the illegitimate regime" of Gbagbo, Ouattara said, according to Agence France-Presse.
Although he is still holed up in a hotel on an Abidjan lagoon nearly two months on from the election, Ouattara has been emboldened by growing shows of diplomatic support from around the west Africa region.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the main regional grouping, has already threatened to use force to lever Gbagbo out of power and the foreign minister of Nigeria — the chief power in ECOWAS — said Monday that he wanted backing for military action.
Under EU sanctions that started in mid-January, EU-registered ships are already barred from new financial transactions with Ivory Coast’s main cocoa ports in Abidjan and San Pedro, two of the West African nation's primary ports for cocoa commerce.
Ivory Coast is the world's largest producer and exporter of cocoa, accounting for around 20 percent of GDP, and a ban would deal a major blow to Gbagbo — the commodity is the main source of income for the government and an export ban would cut funds Gbagbo needs to pay civil servants and the military — but only if it is enforceable.
Gbagbo has not been willing to lift a siege on the Outtara headquarters, giving rise to calls that some kind of military intervention may be the only way to end the impasse.
There was no sign of major disruption to Ivory Coast cocoa exports on Monday, a spokesman for the German Cocoa Trade Association told Reuters.
"We have no indications of a massive disruption to exports this morning," the spokesman said. "I am not aware of force majeure being declared on shipments."
Still, the world’s largest cocoa traders, including Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland Co, Barry Callebaut, Olam and Armajaro, held an emergency conference call on Sunday evening with the Federation of Cocoa Commerce and the European Cocoa Association, the industry bodies, to discuss the situation, The Financial Times reported.
Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia, in an editorial published in Nigerian newspapers Monday, said the crisis "single handedly precipitated by Mr. Laurent Gbagbo ... will inevitably lead to anarchy and chaos, or worse, a full-blown civil war" if not resolved.
"It is clear that Gbagbo is determined to defy and treat the entire international community with absolute disdain ... He cannot, he must not be allowed to prevail," Ajumogobia wrote. "Gbagbo must be made to understand that there is a very real prospect of overwhelming military capability bearing down on him and his cohorts."
The U.S. and the European Union have imposed travel bans and other sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle. Britain has said it would give support at the U.N. for the use of force if West African nations wanted it.