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SOFTS-Raw sugar climbs as funds cover shorts; cocoa rises

(Updates throughout; adds ICE data, comment, NEW YORK dateline) NEW YORK/LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) - Raw sugar futures on ICE climbed on Wednesday, boosted by speculative buying amid signs India could struggle to export its surplus in the near term, while cocoa prices also rose.

SUGAR

* May raw sugar settled up 0.11 cent, or 0.9 percent, at 12.67 cents per lb, supported by speculative buying and a softer U.S. dollar.

* May white sugar settled up $3.60, or 1 percent, at $353.40 per tonne.

* Despite India's announcement to scrap an export duty on sugar, dealers said prices there remained at a significant premium - estimated at about $150 a tonne - to world prices, making it difficult to export in the short term without a subsidy.

* "Removing export duties is the first step in figuring out how to export their surplus," one dealer said. "But the gap remains wide and they need to bridge it."

* Prices were also supported by a slowdown in selling, though dealers said producers remained under-hedged.

* "We suspect the bulk of orders are above 13 cents, but there is still little sign of a short-covering rally by specs to allow an opportunity to price into," Nick Penney, senior trader at Sucden Financial, said in a note.

COCOA

* May New York cocoa settled up $44, or 1.8 percent, at $2,524 per tonne.

* Prices were choppy and lacked firm direction for much of the session as the Moving Average Convergence Divergence (MACD), which hit a seven-year high last week, turned lower. This potentially signaled the recent rally, spurred by lower West African production forecasts despite global surplus expectations, may have run out of steam, traders said.

* The market shrugged off a forecast for a 23 percent plunge in cocoa production for top grower Ivory Coast's mid-crop, with traders viewing it as too low.

* May London cocoa settled up 19 pounds, or 1.1 percent, at 1,775 pounds per tonne.

COFFEE

* May arabica coffee settled down 0.1 cent, or 0.1 percent, at $1.1885 per lb.

* Prices were pressured by late-day selling after being strong for most of the session on a stronger Brazilian real against the U.S. dollar, traders said.

* Short-covering also supported prices, traders said, after ICE data showed total open interest rose to a record 265,236 contracts on Tuesday, while prices are historically low and as speculators hold a large net short position.

* May robusta coffee settled down $2, or 0.11 percent, at $1,752 per tonne.

(Reporting by Marcy Nicholson in New York and Ana Ionova in London; Editing by David Goodman and James Dalgleish)