China envoy warns Canada against politicizing Nexen deal
Posted 2012/09/22 at 11:26 am EDT
TORONTO, Sep. 22, 2012 (Reuters) — China’s ambassador to Canada warned in remarks published on Saturday against allowing domestic politics to drive the Canadian government’s decision on whether to approve Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC Ltd’s proposed $15.1 billion takeover of Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc.
“Business is business. It should not be politicized,” Ambassador Zhang Junsai said in an interview with Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. “If we politicize all this, then we can’t do business.”
The CNOOC deal, if completed, would mark the first outright takeover of a large Canadian energy producer by a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
The ambassador also said negotiating a full free-trade agreement within a decade would be the best way of assuring fair, two-way trade and investment between China and Canada.
“It’s time to open up each other’s markets,” Zhang said. “It’s high time to do the exploratory work on the possibility of a free-trade agreement.”
The newspaper said it was the first time that a senior Chinese representative called for early, accelerated talks on a free-trade deal.
Concern that China has unfairly limited Canadian companies from investing there is one of the issues affecting the debate on approving CNOOC’s bid for the energy producer.
Industry ministry officials are looking closely at the bid to determine whether it is of net benefit to Canada.
Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast could not be reached immediately for reaction to Zhang’s comments, which coincide with Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming’s visit to Canada next week.
CNOOC, whose offer was endorsed by Nexen shareholders last week, said it did not expect Chen to raise its sensitive takeover bid during talks with the Canadian government.
In the Globe interview, Zhang said a free-trade treaty would go a long way toward expanding trade and investment between the two countries, something that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees as a top priority.
Harper wants to ease the dependence of Canada’s export-oriented economy on the United States, its main trade partner.
Although Canada is seeking substantial foreign investment in its oil and gas industry, the CNOOC move is raising concern inside the cabinet, where some members are wary of letting a Chinese state-owned enterprise buy up domestic assets.
Zhang said Canadian fears over China’s intentions are unfounded. “We are not coming to control your resources,” he said.
(Reporting by Frank McGurty; Editing by Will Dunham
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