26 Oct 2020

New Vale sale plan irks pro-independence camp

9:07 am on 26 October 2020

Tension is rising again in New Caledonia over the sale of the Vale nickel plant after last month's planned purchase by New Century Resources of Australia was abandoned.

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 said in the absence of a buyer it would shut the multi-billion-dollar site within months, triggering fears of thousands of job losses.

Pro-independence politicians said the nickel resource had to be retained by New Caledonians and not passed to a foreign financier.

Local chiefs in the south of the main island as well as pro-independence parties are fiercely opposed to a new proposal to sell the plant and its ore reserves to a consortium, reportedly led by a Swiss-based commodity trader, Trafigura.

Yesterday, they marched to near the plant at Goro, with the USTKE union warning of a general strike next week to push Vale to accept a local bid submitted by Sofinor of the Northern province and its partner Korea Zinc.

The offer had earlier been rejected.

One leader Raphael Mapou said action might be taken to halt work at all mines in New Caledonia.

Meanwhile, media reports said an offer had been submitted to Vale by the consortium which included Trafigura, but the company had declined all comment.

Le Nouvelles Caledoniennes said according to the Useonc union, the bid provided for Vale employees in New Caledonia to become shareholders.

The nickel sector with its 35 mines and three processing plants accounts for about 20 percent of the jobs in New Caledonia.

New Caledonia is the fourth biggest nickel ore producer in the world and the seventh largest nickel producer.

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