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Indonesia to keep ban on nickel ore exports: govt officials

Indonesia won't flip-flop on its mineral-ore export ban even as prices of metals languish at multiyear lows, with President Joko Widodo reaffirming his government's full support for the policy that's designed to compel investment in processing capacity.

[JAKARTA] Indonesia will keep its export ban on nickel ore, contrary to recent media reports suggesting the country may relax curbs to prop up its slowing economy, senior government officials said.

Indonesia banned exports of unprocessed metal ores in early 2014 to force firms to develop smelters that would add value to the country's resources and create jobs. But the curbs cost the country billions of dollars in lost revenue last year.

While there are signs the government is trying to bring more money back into resources, the Chief Economics Minister Darmin Nasution warned against speculation that the country would relax its nickel ore export ban.

Indonesia will seek consistency in its mining policies, he said on Tuesday, a view echoed by Mining Minister Sudirman Said.

"What we're doing is looking for incentive to boost economic activities in nickel and bauxite business. How to help smelter projects run smoothly and finish, as per our target," Mr Said said, adding there was no easing of the nickel ore export ban.

On Monday, Bisnis Indonesia newspaper reported that the country may relax export rules for both bauxite and nickel, quoting Director of Coal at the Energy Ministry, Adhi Wibowo.

Mr Wibowo could not be reached for a comment on Tuesday.

The government has previously said it was looking to push back a 2017 deadline banning copper concentrates exports and could ease its ban on bauxite exports.

But according to Coal and Minerals Director General Bambang Gatot, there is no plan to provide an exception to the ban on unprocessed nickel or bauxite exports.

Indonesia is evaluating domestic smelter construction that it hopes to complete this month, he said.

"We'll see the results of the evaluation first."

Economic growth in Indonesia is at a six-year trough, with the rupiah at a 17-year low, as the country struggles with weaker commodity prices and souring investor sentiment.

Before the ore ban, Indonesia was the world's top exporter of nickel ore and biggest supplier to China. Restarting nickel exports could erode the market share of other producers, such as in the Philippines, that stepped in to fill the supply gap.

Leading nickel miners in Indonesia include Vale Indonesia and PT Aneka Tambang.

If exports were allowed now, nickel producers would not earn much as global nickel prices are near multi-year lows, said Susantyo, chairman at the Indonesian Nickel Association.

"Rumours of easing bans often come up but if there is a relaxation, it would mean the government is not consistent." REUTERS