29 May 2020

Bid to overturn New Caledonia ore export permit fails

1:56 pm on 29 May 2020

A legal challenge to overturn the New Caledonian government's decision to allow more nickel ore exports has failed.

President of New Caledonia's Northern Province Paul Neaoutyine

President of New Caledonia's Northern Province Paul Neaoutyine Photo: RNZ Walter Zweifel

The president of the Northern Province, Paul Neaoutyine, had taken issue with the collegial government's decision last year after it approved a request by the SLN nickel company to export four million tonnes of ore a year for 10 years.

This week the administrative court threw out his bid to annul the move.

The pro-independence members of the collegial government had opposed SLN's plan, arguing that high quality ore should be processed in New Caledonia and not abroad.

SLN, which is New Caledonia's biggest private sector employer, had been running at a loss but survived a severe crisis four years ago thanks to huge loans from its French parent company Eramet and the French government.

The sale of ore from its mines to Japan and China was expected to boost SLN's revenues as it implemented a restructure aimed at reducing the costs of producing nickel.

However, concerns remain that SLN will run out of money.

On Wednesday, the Palika party, which is led by Mr Neaoutyine, spoke out against a proposed law change to allow SLN and another nickel producers to export ore earmarked for local plants.

SLN and Brazilian-owned Vale each want to sell two million ton of ore because of their financial problems.

Palika described the plan as a disgrace because it shouldn't be New Caledonians that had to foot the bill for the mistakes of multi-nationals.

The party pointed out the Goro nickel ore deposit now held by Vale was gifted on condition that it was processed in New Caledonia.

The pro-independence politicians want only low grade nickel ore to be used abroad at smelters where New Caledonian interests hold a majority.