The New Caledonian government has approved a single company's bid to start exporting low-grade nickel ore to China.
The collegial government considered four applications but only authorised the company MKM to sell 300,000 tonnes of ore in the next 18 months.
The MKM bid was successful because of the support of the ministers of the pro-independence Caledonian Union, who abstained from endorsing the other three bids.
The head of MKM is close to the party.
Two weeks ago, the territory's Congress narrowly backed calls to extend nickel ore exports to China - an issue at the centre of a three-week industrial conflict in August.
The nickel price has more than halved since early 2011, prompting calls to find new markets while others want to limit sales to hike the price.
Politicians in Noumea fear that industry-wide losses will this year exceed one billion US dollars, with setbacks affecting not only the territory's three smelters but also subcontractors.