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March 26, 2009

Ethiopia shuts down coffee exporter warehouses over hoarding claims

by Jason McLure

Ethiopia, Africa’s largest coffee producer, closed the warehouses of the country’s six largest exporters of the beans and suspended their licenses after accusing the brokers of hoarding the crop, the government said.

“They have five days to appeal their case,” Ermias Legesse, the state minister of government communication affairs, said by phone from the capital, Addis Ababa, on March 25.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi the previous week accused exporters of stockpiling coffee while they waited for international prices to rise, a practice he called “an illegal way of working.” Meles said the government would seize the coffee if it wasn’t sold immediately.

Coffee exports from Ethiopia, the origin of the Arabica coffee plant, have declined more than 10 percent in the first eight months of the country’s fiscal year, which began July 8, to 76,674 metric tons, according to trade ministry figures. Coffee is Ethiopia’s biggest export.

Coffee production in the October to December harvest period declined 14 percent to an 302,290 tons because of drought and disease, the Agriculture Ministry said Dec. 19.

“We haven’t hoarded anything,” Yismashewa Seyoum, the commercial manager of Seid Yassin Pvt. Ltd., said in a phone interview from Addis Ababa. “We have proof that we haven’t been hoarding so we are confident that the ban will be lifted.”

Ethiopia’s has been affected by a shortage of foreign exchange that has caused of everything from Coca-Cola and automobile parts to medical supplies, because manufacturers can’t import raw materials.

Arabica coffee for May delivery traded at $1.1650 a pound in New York as of 11:07 a.m. local time (March 25).

Bloomberg

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