BEIJING - Canada is open to future acquisitions by Chinese energy companies, its trade minister said, in a clear signal Ottawa wants deeper ties with Beijing despite controversy over CNOOC Ltd.'s recent acquisition of Canada's Nexen Inc.
Canadian trade minister Ed Fast said Tuesday during a visit to Beijing that Canada was one of the world's most open investment destinations, and that it was committed to diversifying resource exports away from heavy reliance on the U.S.
"My message was clear today: We're open for business," Mr. Fast said in an interview.
Asked repeatedly whether Chinese companies would be welcomed in the future to buy Canadian companies outright as seen in the Nexen acquisition, Mr. Fast reiterated that Canada was welcoming to Chinese energy and other investments.
The visit by Mr. Fast follows the recently completed $15.1 billion acquisition of oil-sands operator Nexen by Chinese state-backed oil-and-gas giant CNOOC. The deal was the largest-ever corporate acquisition overseas by a Chinese company, but faced scrutiny in Ottawa from lawmakers.
In approving the deal in December, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper effectively slammed the door on further acquisitions in Canadian oil sands by state-controlled companies, saying similar future deals wouldn't be in the country's overall interests. Mr. Harper described the deal's approval at the time as the "end of a trend," and not the beginning of one.
Mr. Fast said on Tuesday that Chinese investment and acquisitions were still warmly welcomed elsewhere in the energy patch despite the strong comments by Mr. Harper.
"That's a message I've carried to the Chinese leadership here: that Canada continues to welcome Chinese investment, not only in the energy field, but broadly across the Canadian economy," he said.
He added, "The clarifications that were made with respect to the oil sands were pretty clear, and with respect to other investments in the energy sector outside the oil sands, it is still open...and a welcoming environment for them."
Words of support by Mr. Fast come as Chinese state-backed energy companies increasingly view Canada as a natural destination from which to shore up energy resources to fuel its expanding economy. China in the short term is in need of everything from liquefied natural gas to uranium, and Canadian companies are racing to boost export infrastructure in order to meet booming Asian demand.
Energy ties between Canada and China have come increasingly into the spotlight in recent months. That is particularly so as the Obama administration deliberates whether to approve the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would carry heavy crude from Canada's Alberta province to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
U.S. President Barack Obama rejected a version of the pipeline in early 2012 on environmental grounds, and a decision by the administration on a revised proposal is expected this summer.
Mr. Fast said Canada would press ahead with diversifying exports away from the U.S. regardless of the Obama administration's eventual decision on the pipeline, but said Keystone's approval would be important to shoring up North American energy security.
"We believe that there is a choice that the United States has to make," Mr. Fast said. "Do they want to continue to purchase oil from countries like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Venezuela that don't share the same values as the United States, or does the United States want to have its most trusted trading partner as its partner in energy security?
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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