SOFTS-ICE sugar firms, remains near 2-1/2-year low; coffee dips
* Arabicas market avoids coffee leaf rust in Centam
* ICE raw sugar seen trading near 18.0 cts/lb in near term
* Cocoa trade sees ample W. Africa mid crop production
(Adds byline, trade comment; updates prices)
LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - ICE raw sugar futures firmed on Monday but remained near a 2-1/2-year low pressured by ample global supplies, while arabica coffee and cocoa dipped, weighed by expectations of big crops.
May raw sugar firmed 0.08 cent, or 0.45 percent to 17.99 cents per lb at 1216 GMT. The front-month contract dipped to 17.61 cents a lb on Thursday, the lowest level since August 2010, as hefty global supplies weighed.
On Friday, ICE raw sugar futures dropped the most in almost two months, close to Thursday's 2-1/2-year low, as renewed worry about the global economy sank markets already pressured by ample supplies.
"The market feels comfortable around 18 cents, with any movement below that resulting in short covering or destination buying," said Keith Flury, a senior soft commodities analyst with Rabobank.
A senior London-based sugar futures broker said, "For now, I would still expect further consolidation between 18.00 and 17.67 cents.
"The upside would still appear fairly limited, unless substantial end destination offtake is suddenly forthcoming."
May white sugar on Liffe was little changed, up 40 cents or 0.08 percent to $514.30 a tonne in thin volume of 866 lots.
COCOA MID CROPS
ICE second-month cocoa futures touched a nine-month low, as anticipated forward sales weighed on prices.
"The West African crops will be pretty good, and we might need to focus on the 2013/14 main crops before we see support for cocoa," Flury said.
May cocoa futures on ICE were down $21 or 1.01 percent at $2,061 per tonne, above a nine-month low of $2,058 per tonne for the second month touched earlier in the session.
May cocoa on Liffe dipped 17 pounds or 1.2 percent to 1,389 pounds a tonne, having earlier touched a 10-month low of 1,388 pounds.
Indonesia's exports of cocoa beans from its main growing island of Sulawesi dropped 2 percent to 7,790.50 tonnes in February from 7,917.7 tonnes a year earlier, industry data showed on Friday.
ICE May arabica coffee eased 0.25 cent or 0.17 percent to $1.4310 per lb, above a 32-month low of $1.3760 touched on Feb. 19 on expectations of big crops from Brazil, the world's biggest coffee producer, Colombia and Peru, which should help offset any Central American losses in 2012/13.
The arabicas futures market is ignoring the alarming spread of the coffee leaf rust disease across Central America's coffee growing regions, Macquarie Bank said in a report.
"With more than 25 percent of the crop currently infested, fighting the disease could involve a 10-plus year problem," it said.
May robusta coffee futures on Liffe edged $8 or 0.38 percent lower, to $2,107 a tonne in slim volume of 1,183 lots.
Colombia's government raised a subsidy to coffee farmers on Saturday and called for them to end a strike, but farm leaders said they will continue protesting and blocking roads because they want buyers to pay a minimum price for beans.
Coffee exports from Costa Rica fell 12.2 percent in February compared with the same month last year, reaching 152,621 60-kg bags, the country's national coffee institute, ICAFE, said on Friday.
(Reporting by David Brough; Editing by Alison Birrane)