Harper to promote Canada business, but no investment rules yet

Thu Nov 1, 2012 2:45pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will promote Canada as open for business during a November 3-11 trip to Asia, although he is not likely to unveil long-awaited guidelines for foreign takeovers of Canadian firms, an aide said on Thursday.

"I don't think it's a problem at all to go around the world and say we're open for business, because we are," Harper's chief spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, told reporters ahead of the trip, which will take Harper to India, the Philippines and Hong Kong.

"Canada overwhelmingly supports foreign investment in Canada ... There's been a small handful of transactions that have been turned down under the Investment Canada Act."

The Investment Canada Act asks the industry minister to rule whether foreign takeovers over a certain size are of "net benefit" to Canada, a term that has never been fully defined.

The climate for foreign investment became even more opaque after an interim government decision last month to turn down a Malaysian bid for a Canadian company, and expected delays on whether Canada will approve a Chinese takeover attempt.

The Conservative government, which says Canada needs some $650 billion in investment over the next decade, has promised to release new guidelines on foreign investment at around the time it rules on the $15.1 billion bid by China's state-owned CNOOC Ltd to take over oil producer Nexen Inc, and Harper has said decisions would be made "fairly shortly."

Asked if the guidelines would be unveiled during the trip to Asia, MacDougall said: "I don't expect we'll be covering much on the foreign investment front."

The CNOOC bid has become increasingly controversial in Canada amid heated debate over whether foreign state-owned enterprises should be allowed to buy Canadian companies.   Continued...

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 31, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie