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Will the nickel issue call into question 30 years of peace in New Caledonia?

New Caledonia has four factories to process its nickel ore. The North Province owns two factories, one in Korea which it shares with the steelmaker Posco, the other, that of the rebalancing desired by General de Gaulle, is shared with the miner Glencore. In both cases, the North Province has 51% of the shares and industrialists 49%. Further south in Nouméa, SLN belongs 34% to the 3 provinces – South, North and Islands – and the remainder to Eramet and a Japanese industrialist. In the far south, the Goro factory and mine are owned 5% by local communities and the remainder by the Brazilian Vale.

Two attempts to sell

Since the end of 2019, Vale wants to sell its 95% of Goro for a symbolic euro, but for 12 months two attempts to sell have been fiascos.

The first failed because the chosen candidate, the Australian New Century Resources, was neither industrially nor financially solid.

The second is being adjourned, but has caused a stir. Goro was to be recapitalized to the tune of $ 100 million by a new shareholder structure, and the proposed solution seemed to be a montage or mixed up several opacities.

The clearest part of the new capital was that of Trafigura, international trader. He would take 25% against $ 25 million.

More jarring was that of a new company created for the occasion, Compagnie Financière Prony (CFP). Some people were surprised that its founder established in Polynesia, a free territory with regard to income tax, combined the functions of director of the Goro site, negotiator of the sale of this same mining site on behalf of Vale. and candidate for its recovery.

Like Trafigura, CFP, a company not yet created and without sufficient financial resources to finance its contribution, took 25% of the capital. It was therefore announced initially that Trafigura would advance it $ 50 million, then CFP would receive $ 25 million from Trafigura and $ 25 million from a front company incorporated in the Grenadines Islands and headquartered social would be in Liechtenstein.

The balance of the capital, 50%, was to be distributed between employees, local communities and private investors against around 10 to 15 million dollars, without really knowing the amount and nature of the contributions of each of these parties. .

More obscure, added together, these contributions did not amount to 100 million dollars. In addition, if 1 million dollars contributed by Trafigura allowed it to acquire 1% of the capital, the same contribution from another party seemed to offer a different percentage without any real explanation.

Financial and fiscal facilities

For its part, Paris provided financial and fiscal facilities of approximately 420 million euros in metropolitan money; the seller, Vale, was giving the buyer $ 500 million, to upgrade the mine dam, banks were said to lend $ 242 million.

Finally, the aim of this solution was to supply the Chinese battery industry with nickel and cobalt.

A third proposal was that of the company Sofinor associated with the Korean Korean-Zinc. Industrially, it was clear, as it maintained all site activity. Technically, it was clean, because the Korean group is a world leader in metal refining and it brought its know-how and metallurgical technologies. Financially, it was pure, because the local authorities provided 51% of the capital in the form of mining permits while the Korean fully and directly financed the other 49% of the project from its own funds without fiscal falsehood.

Strategically, it was cunning, because it wanted to supply not China, but the European “Airbus of batteries”. Politically, it ensured a rebalancing of New Caledonian nickel, because if it was the North Province, already rich in two factories, which worked out the acquisition of the 51%, it is the Southern Province which inherited the presidency of the company.

However, since Sofinor-Korean Zinc employees were banned from accessing the Goro mine site, their offer remained incomplete. Then on December 7, 2020, following diplomatic pressure, Korean Zinc withdrew from its joint offer with Sofinor.

Dated the next day, December 8, 2020, a put option on the plant and mine was offered for signature by Trafigura-CFP and Vale. This contract stipulated that CFP still had no legal existence at that date.

Anti-colonialist rhetoric revived

One did not have to be a great clerk to foresee that a policy which did not anticipate its blunders would logically revive an anti-colonialist rhetoric until then softened by 30 years of peace and that it would generate a loss of control and disproportionate consequences. In the days that followed, the Goro factory was the site of degradation, fires, destruction, roadblocks, journalists were threatened, racist insults and death threats increased, social networks organized witch hunts . After 30 years of peace!

How to get out of this fiasco?

New Caledonia has demonstrated its expertise in networks that crush differences. Instead of presenting, including in the official Parisian media, the surrender of Goro as a confrontation between the North against the South and rural communities against Nouméa, to ape it as an anti-Chinese bulwark without looking at what is happening in Indonesia, to oppose Glencore to Trafigura, these networks should get back to work as the departure of the Brazilian Vale must imperatively unify the territory and find harmony rather than division.

Second, the process of selling the Goro factory and mine must be redesigned towards less politics, more neutrality and impartiality, but above all increase its almost non-existent industrial expertise. In fact, the discussions in recent days are moving towards 51% Caledonian interests and 49% non-Caledonian capital. The first providing access to the deposit and the second real technical expertise, while the capital and tax facilities are to be put in perspective of a third referendum. Contrary to the course of the last 12 months, in this future assembly, the engineer and the metallurgy must be the starting point and the competent and valid suitors are known. The whole is not very complicated, as long as the device aims to save jobs and continue a peace that has lasted for 30 years.

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