24 Jul 2017

France govt minister visits New Caledonia

7:40 am on 24 July 2017

France's overseas minister Annick Girardin is today due to start a week of official engagements in New Caledonia with a meeting of political leaders at the territory's Congress.

Before flying to Noumea on her first ministerial overseas trip, Ms Girardin already met representatives of both the pro- and anti-independence camps who are seeking talks with Paris as next year's independence referendum nears.

Overseas Minister Annick Girardin

Overseas Minister Annick Girardin Photo: AFP

Her visit comes amid heightened political tension as loyalists suggest the new French leadership might want to loosen ties while the rival camp suspects Paris is skewing the self-determination process by disadvantaging potential Kanak voters.

Her visit also comes amid gloom in the vital nickel industry, which despite massive French government loans keeps incurring losses and could see job losses.

Ms Girardin is due to visit one nickel plant, meet leaders in all three provinces and fly over the large cargo ship stuck on a reef off Mare.

She is also scheduled to attend Friday's Pacific Community meeting to mark the organisation's 70th anniversary.