New Caledonia's southern province has approved a deal with two major nickel companies to explore a huge ore deposit.
The province's memorandum of understanding with Eramet of France and Vale of Brazil provides for a four-year study of the Prony and Pernod deposits in the south of the main island.
A joint venture company, in which the provincial government is the biggest shareholder, is to examine estimates that the deposits contain three million tonnes of nickel which could be mined over 50 years.
Should a processing plant be built, the province will have a 10 percent stake plus a small share of the value of the nickel sold.
The opposition is critical of the deal, saying it is rushed as only six weeks remain before the provincial election.
The deal is to be formally signed off by the head of Eramet and Vale at the end of the week.
The two companies each have a large nickel plant in the southern province.