New Caledonian, Chinese companies plan Vanuatu nickel partnership
* Plan is to mine ore in New Caledonia and refine it in Vanuatu
* Vanuatu asks partners to seek approval to build a refinery
* South Pacific seeking to lift role in world nickel supply
By James Regan and Cecile Lefort
SYDNEY, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The South Pacific islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu are studying a plan to jointly mine and process nickel ores into refined metal to help produce stainless steel in China.
The acting prime minister of Vanuatu, Ham Lini, has expressed interest in the proposal and has asked the partners to lodge a formal application to construct the smelter in his country.
The move comes as Chinese steel mills scour the Asia-Pacific region for alternative supplies of nickel after top supplier Indonesia imposed a ban on such exports in January.
Under the proposed partnership, New Caledonian company MKM Group and China's Jin Pei Century Investment (Group) Co Ltd plan to mine low-purity nickel ore in the French Pacific territory and ship it to Santo in northern Vanuatu for smelting.
Media reports in New Caledonia said the project would be owned 51 percent by MKM and 49 percent by Jin Pei. Continuación...