6 Dec 2019

Chinese company could buy New Caledonia's Vale nickel plant -report

4:23 pm on 6 December 2019

New Caledonia's veteran anti-independence politician Pierre Frogier says it is up to the Southern Province how it deals with the Vale nickel plant, which has been put up for sale.

After a decade of technical and financial difficulties and conflicts with the local population, the plant had hoped to return to profits in 2015.

A photo taken on May 27, 2015 shows Brazilian Vale's nickel processing plant of Goro in southern New Caledonia. Photo: AFP PHOTO / FRED PAYET

Its Brazilian owner wants to sell the asset while embarking on a new strategy, which involves exporting two million tonnes of low-grade nickel ore a year.

Such exports require changes to the mining code but Louis Mapou, of the pro-independence UNI party, said Vale should not be granted a blank cheque.

Mr Frogier, who is a former president and now a member of the French Senate, said by shipping some of its nickel ore to a facility it co-owns in South Korea, the Northern Province only created jobs there.

He said while that was within its rights, the Southern Province was also free to choose its own model.

Mr Frogier said that showed the differentiation of the provinces, which he would propose to enact after the Noumea Accord process - when its referendums had been completed.

A leading anti-independence New Caledonian politician, Pierre Frogier.

New Caledonia politician Pierre Frogier Photo: AFP

In October, Mr Frogier suggested that New Caledonia could do away with its central government and let the three provinces deal with Paris directly.

Amid the speculation of who possible buyers might be, the online publication Noumea Post said insiders considered China's Tsingshan as a likely candidate.

Vale has not commented although a small political party in New Caledonia has asked for clarifications of the divestment plans.

Tsingshan uses the same high-pressure-acid-lead technology for its nickel production as Vale introduced at its plant in New Caledonia.