On Tuesday, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, issued a call to action to the mining giant Glencore and the Northern province of New Caledonia, which are shareholders of the Koniambo Nickel SAS (KNS) factory. This factory, which is currently facing significant financial difficulties, is at risk of closure. Le Maire urged these stakeholders to “take their responsibilities” and work towards preventing this from happening.
The Koniambo Nickel SAS ferronickel production plant has been a key project for promoting economic balance between the North and South provinces of the French Pacific archipelago. However, despite its importance, the plant has struggled to turn a profit and is currently burdened with a monumental debt of nearly 14 billion euros.
The Northern Province holds a 51% share in the factory, with Glencore holding the remaining 49%. Unfortunately, Glencore has been left to bear the financial losses of the factory alone. To make matters worse, at the end of 2024, Glencore announced its intention to mothball the site, which would result in around 1,300 employees losing their jobs.
“We are not going to subsidize at a loss”
“I have put forward proposals to Glencore. We have offered 60 million euros in subsidies on the price of energy, 45 million euros in additional resources, and a loan of 100 million: 200 million euros in total to ensure the sustainability of the only factory in the north in the form of public support,” stated Le Maire during a government questions session at the National Assembly.
Le Maire went on to say, “Now it’s up to the shareholders to take their responsibilities. We will not go any further and we will not subsidize at a loss: Glencore and the Northern province have their responsibilities to take,” He assured that “the State has taken its own”.
Despite the current difficulties, Bruno Le Maire expressed his belief in the future of the nickel sector in New Caledonia. This sector represents almost a quarter of the archipelago’s private jobs and 20% of its GDP but has been negatively impacted by falling prices, expensive energy, and increased foreign competition.
A pact to revive the sector
Currently, negotiations are underway on a “nickel pact” that is expected to revive the sector and save the three factories in the archipelago (KNS, SLN and Prony Ressources) that are heavily in debt.
The Minister of the Economy recalled the government’s conditions for this pact. These conditions include the agreement of elected officials to export part of the ore – a profitable activity – instead of processing it on-site, and the commitment of industrialists to invest in and develop the factories.
The State would also commit to modernizing the Caledonian electricity network to lower the price of energy. Bruno Le Maire urged all elected officials to sign this draft agreement, which has been in the works for several weeks.
“Our goal is to conclude the discussions on the nickel pact by the end of the month,” stated the Ministry of the Economy.