Global miner BHP Billiton has signed a joint venture with Indonesian miner PT Aneka Tambang Tbk (Antam) to develop nickel laterite resources in eastern Indonesia, Antam said on Thursday.

Antam said in a statement to the Australian stock exchange that the 50:50 venture followed a heads of agreement in February last year and was still subject to BHP Billiton board approval.

The two companies have agreed to jointly study development of nickel deposits in the areas around Buli in North Maluku.

Antam said last year that these areas had an estimated 57 million wet metric tonnes of high-grade nickel ore reserves and 79 million wet metric tonnes of high-grade nickel ore resources.

Nickel prices have seen a steep decline in 2008, down 13 percent from the start of the year as stainless steel makers, which consume around two-thirds of the world's nickel, scaled back purchases in light of slowing demand for their products. (Reporting by Mark Bendeich; editing by Jonathan Standing)

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