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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (February 18, 2001 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---New Caledonia's nickel production, the world's third largest, netted a record 70 billion French Pacific Francs (about U.S.$ 560 million) in export sales of the ore last year, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reported.

According to the French territory's statistical office ITSEE, this resulted from the export of about seven and a half million tons of nickel and its by-products, a thirteen percent rise compared to 1999.

The main buyers of New Caledonian nickel were Japan and Australia (for a total amount of 15 billion French Pacific Francs, about US$ 120 million), with most of the remainder of the production being shipped to France.

ITSEE explained that the increase resulted from favorable world prices for the ore.

Nickel sales, being one of the major contributors to New Caledonia's economy, have boosted the French territory's trade balance, which last year achieved an unusual 63.5 percent cover rate (the ratio between imports and exports).

Nickel mined in New Caledonia is being processed at the Doniambo smelter near the capital, Nouméa.

Meanwhile, one of New Caledonia's nickel stakeholders, French giant Eramet (which owns New Caledonia's Société Le Nickel -SLN), last week also announced a 14.9 billion French Francs (US$ 2.1 billion) turnover for the year 2000.

This represents a 19 percent increase compared to 1999, its chairman Yves Rambaud announced in Nouméa last week at a press conference.

Eramet said SLN alone produced some 57,500 tons of nickel for the period.

Rambaud said Eramet was planning to invest around one billion French Francs in New Caledonia in the next four years in order to boost the production capacity to a yearly 70,000 tons.

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