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Tuesday, January 26, 1999 Published at 15:19 GMT

Business: The Economy

Coffee prices soar after earthquake

Colombia is one of the world's biggest coffee growers

Coffee prices in London have risen sharply following news of the earthquake in Colombia, which damaged the main coffee-growing region.

Colombian finance minister Juan Camilo Restrepo, who is visiting London, said the damage was widespread in a region which produces about 50% of all Colombian coffee.

He said it was too early for a full economic assessment but it was clear that the damage was severe.

[ image: Coffee prices could suffer]
Coffee prices could suffer
In the London coffee market, contracts for robusta beans for March delivery rose by $23 a tonne to $1,755, while the price for January deliveries increased $38 to $1,751.

Mickey Donovan of Prudential Bache said prices could well go higher: "Coffee prices are up this morning because of the earthquake in Colombia last night. Even if it's too early to assess correctly the damage done to the growing region, people nonetheless fear a cut in production."

Coffee futures in New York also rose in early trading.

Damage to infrastructure

Just as with the hurricane that devastated much of Central America last year, it may be that the damage to the infrastructure, including transport links, causes as much dislocation as crop damage itself.

There have been landslides across several key highways, including the main route linking the coffee zone with the key Pacific port of Buenaventura.

Colombia National Coffee Growers' Federation leader Jorge Cardenas told reporters on the sidelines of an Association of Coffee Producing Countries meeting in London that although the transport infrastructure needed to export coffee could have suffered, the coffee crop itself may not have been affected by the quake.

Columbia is the world's second largest coffee producer after Brazil, growing between 750,000 and one million tonnes of coffee beans a year.

The economic crisis in Brazil has also put pressure on coffee prices, with internal prices in Brazil soaring by 20% in the past two weeks.

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