After 17 years spent at the head of the first Caledonian Trade Union, charismatic Didier Guénan-Jeanson bowed and leaves its place to Milo Poaniewa. With the first Syndex report in 2005, the Union had attempted to lay the groundwork for mining in New Caledonia. Before, neither large group, nor institution, had conducted a public reflection on nickel. I was fortunate enough to have been designated by the Union as the Director of the International Symposium in which the study was presented to a large public. With the economic growth of industrial China, New Caledonia was then at the centre stage of the growth strategy of international groups such as Inco and Falconbrige, which have since been taken over. The Union then arose the question of how nickel could be placed at the centre of economic and social development, what would be the effects of major industrial projects, and how to set up an industrial policy to ensure the responsibility of industrialists and the maximization of benefits for the communities. The local authorities have since implemented an investment policy to attract industrials, elaborated a mining scheme for the development of mineral wealth, issued a mining code, but the three processing plants as well as smaller locally owned mining companies are in danger. Then, ten years later, a new Syndex report financed by the local authorities gives the Union the opportunity to stress out -though in a much softer approach than expected- that no long-term vision has since been set up.
Given the difficult situation in which the local industry is, the Union can do little but subsequently denounce the authorities’ short term management without a vision that leads to a public debate opposing radical and useless stands. Without rocking the boat, its self-tempered voice says that it worries about the future of local processing plants and the fact that mining companies are put under pressure by the laws of market economy. Being a subtile « non-political » player in the game of snakes and ladders, it rightly deplores the decision of ERAMET to postpone the decision to build the new power plant of SLN, legitimately requests the French State to play its role as a shareholder, but softens its critics of the local authorities regarding the double standard of its export policy. It merely argues that in times of crisis, it is even more necessary to find a balance between public ownership and private interests, between the mineral resource estimate and the shares that must be devoted to both local processing and export. Not surprisingly, a few days after his announcement to retire, Didier Guenan-Jeanson was appointed as New Caledonia’s representative at the Economic, Social & Environmental Council in Paris.
On the global market, however, the recent approval by the New Caledonian Government for the partial resumption of limonite ore export to China do little to satisfy demand from Chinese nickel pig iron producers. Given the small volumes involved, market analysts question the significance of the move and worry about the potential consequences of protests. Offer price remains higher than that of Philippine nickel ore, although New Caledonia is estimated to contain a quarter of the world’s nickel resource while its output accounts for seven percent of global production. After ten years of passionate debate, it seems that nickel is finally far more important to New Caledonia, than New Calodonia actually is to the world of nickel.