17 Jun 2008

New Caledonian call to ensure SLN remains locally owned

11:07 am on 17 June 2008

There has been a call in New Caledonia for the territory to take a larger stake in the SLN nickel company which is the biggest private sector employer.

The call was made by the president of the southern province, Philippe Gomes, who has expressed concern that New Caledonia could be taken hostage by deals involving and affecting SLN's parent company Eramet.

A New Caledonian public entity has a 34 percent stake in SLN and Mr Gomes proposes that it be raised to 50 percent.

The French-owned Eramet group is at the centre of speculation of possible ownership changes, with suggestions that a key shareholder may sell its stake.

This has raised concern in Noumea and Paris that SLN could become foreign-owned.

The nickel resource is the backbone of the territory's economy and billions of dollars are being invested in two projects - one run by Vale of Brazil, the other backed by Xstrata of Switzerland.