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A general view of Brazilian mining giant Vale's aluminium refinery in Barcarena, in the northen Brazilian state of Para, August 14, 2008. The Brazilian mining company has put plans for a Saskatchewan potash project on hold.

Paulo Santos/Reuters

Brazilian miner Vale SA, hurt by the global commodities slump, said it will close its nickel smelting and refining operations in Manitoba in 2018, and put development of a potash mine in Saskatchewan on hold.

Vale, the world's biggest nickel producer, will cease smelting and refining in Thompson, Man., once work is complete to allow it to produce and ship nickel concentrate from its mill, said Mark Scott, Vale's director of mining and milling in Thompson.

Smelting and refining operations were originally scheduled for closing this year, until the company struck an agreement with workers and Canada's environment department to keep them running until as late as 2019. The company will continue mining and milling at Thompson.

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London nickel futures fell on Thursday to their lowest level in seven years, less than $9,000 a tonne. Nickel has been hurt by a supply glut and softer demand from China, the largest consumer of the versatile metal, which is used in products ranging from coins to rechargeable batteries.

Meanwhile, Vale's potash unit put the long-awaited potash mine at Kronau, Sask. on hold. The Brazilian mining company announced the decision to suspend work on the mine in a public letter to the local community.

Vale says the recent feasibility study still shows a compelling case for a mine in Kronau someday, but market conditions make it difficult to finance the project right now.

Matthew Wood, senior project leader at Vale, says there just isn't an opportunity to start any new construction next year.

The $3.5 billion mining project was projected to create 2,000 construction jobs and 350 permanent jobs.

The mining giant currently operates with a team of about 30 people in Saskatchewan.

"We're just sort of evaluating what we can do with those staff, whether we can re-assign them other places, whether we can find other opportunities for them," Wood explained.

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He said a much smaller core team of people will remain in the province to maintain the land holdings along with government and community relations. There is no word specifically on how many people that will be.

Wood said the project is still very strategic for the company in the long-term, but the timeline to restart is dependent on market value.

Erwin Beitel, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Lajord, said he's optimistic the project will eventually happen.

"It's just going to be a wait-and-see situation and who knows, in two years, four years, 10 years, they'll come out. This has been suspended before and then started up again," he said.

The mine was postponed back in 2012.

Beitel said nobody lost jobs in the local community because the work hadn't really started on the site yet. In fact, the land is still being farmed.

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"There's really no workforce that was out there at all, it's just sitting in limbo for now," he said.

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