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Australian nickel refiner seeks more ore from New Caledonia

(Adds reporting credit)

SYDNEY, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Australian nickel refiner Queensland Nickel has yet to fill its laterite ore quota from New Caledonian suppliers and was eager to increase volume as the South Pacific (Hamburg: AJ4.HM - news) country faces pressure to lift a ban on exports to China.

China's stainless steel mills typically use nickel pig iron, a cheaper substitute for nickel, made from laterite ore, in the manufacturing process. But since Indonesia banned ore exports in January 2014, producers' stores have dried up.

New Caledonia has ruled out exports of nickel laterites to China, citing longstanding supply agreements in Australia, prompting protests from local mining service workers who want to see the China market opened to encourage the development of more mines.

"Queensland Nickel reconfirms its commitment to New (KOSDAQ: 160550.KQ - news) Caledonia after spending more than A$1 billion ($734 million)in recent years growing the economy of the Pacific archipelago, and is happy to take increased volumes of its laterite ore," refinery owner Clive Palmer said in an email to Reuters.

Palmer also said his refinery had confirmed to nickel miner Societe Le Nickel in New Caledonia that it was "ready and willing" to extend its contract for five years.

Palmer did not comment on reports in New Caledonia that Queensland Nickel might dig its own mines in Australia. Queensland Nickel holds mining rights on known deposits in Australia. ($1 = 1.3622 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Jim Regan, Cecile Lefort; Editing by Michael Perry)