BUSINESSDESK: Both parties to negotiations over electricity prices for the Rio Tinto-owned aluminium smelter near Bluff say there is no truth to reports that state-owned electricity producer Meridian Energy has abandoned the talks.
"We haven't walked away from anything," Meridian spokeswoman Claire Shaw says in response to media reports and statements from trade unions urging government intervention to save the smelter and bring down the high value of the New Zealand dollar, which is hurting exporters.
The local Rio unit, New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, also confirmed negotiations are continuing.
The call for government intervention from the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union coincides with a push by opposition parties – Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First – for changes to the way monetary policy is managed by the Reserve Bank in a bid to lower the dollar.
Ms Shaw says the reports on the contract negotiations failing are wrong, including the claim that an alleged walkout had occurred on Thursday.
"There were no negotiations on Thursday," she told BusinessDesk.
The Bluff smelter is one of a portfolio of older, Australasian plants Rio is attempting to sell and has packaged as a new entity, Pacific Aluminium.
The Australian and London-based multinational said earlier this year it hoped to renegotiate the 27-year electricity contracts concluded with Meridian in 2007 and taking effect from next year as the high kiwi dollar and plummeting aluminium prices saw the smelter lose money for the second year in a row.
Prime Minister John Key has indicated Rio is on the hook at existing terms in the first three years of the new contract, but that changes reflecting metal prices and exchange rate movements could be renegotiated after that.
As the consumer of around one-seventh of all electricity produced in New Zealand, the smelter's electricity supply contracts have been shrouded in secrecy since the plant began operating in 1971.
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