* Ivory Coast seeking to develop of western regions
* Pushing large iron mining projects
* Requires port expansion for ore exports
By Ange Aboa
SAN PEDRO, Ivory Coast, May 8 (Reuters) - Ivory Coast's port of San Pedro is seeking 777 billion CFA francs ($1.65 billion) from private partners to fund upgrades that aim to make it one of West Africa's top shipping hubs, including for iron ore and nickel, the transport minister said.
San Pedro is already the world's leading port for cocoa exports, shipping more than half of total output from Ivory Coast, the top producer of the chocolate ingredient. It also exports coffee, palm oil, timber and cotton.
But the government of President Alassane Ouattara wants to make the port the centrepiece of an ambitious plan that would see more than 8 trillion CFA francs invested in the development of the country's predominantly agricultural western regions.
"The port of San Pedro is our next development and growth hub, because it is from San Pedro that we will export iron and nickel ore," Transport Minister Gaoussou Toure told an investment forum late on Wednesday.
Ivory Coast has long neglected its potentially lucrative mining sector in favour of a concentration on soft commodity exports. But following a decade-long crisis that ended in a brief civil war in 2011, it is seeking to diversify its economy.
India's Tata Steel is finalising exploration and feasibility studies for its Mt. Nimba and Mt. Gao concessions and plans to invest around $1 billion to develop the two iron deposits.
It plans to use the ore mined in Ivory Coast to supply steel mills in Britain and the Netherlands operated by its subsidiary Tata Steel UK, the second-largest steel producer in Europe.
Detailing the investment plans, Toure said San Pedro was seeking private partners to finance the construction of a new 500 billion CFA franc terminal to handle ore exports.
A proposed second container terminal is expected to cost 260 billion CFA francs, he said, while a multipurpose terminal will cost an additional 17 billion CFA.
San Pedro entered a partnership with Port of Antwerp International (PAI), a subsidiary of Antwerp's port authority, in 2012 as part of efforts to secure $230 million in financing from private investors.
The port announced in February it planned to build a new refined fuel terminal targeting distribution in the country's west, as well as export markets in neighbouring Liberia, Guinea and Mali.
($1 = 471.1490 CFA Francs) (Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)