Canadian Manufacturing

Saskatchewan needs open approach to foreign investment: report

Conference Board says major infrastructure projects likely to be done by large, multinational companies

REGINA—A new report says Saskatchewan will need to attract $20- to $30-billion in capital investment a year until 2032 to finance economic and infrastructure growth.

And in order to do that, the Conference Board of Canada says Saskatchewan has to be open to foreign investors—including state-owned enterprises.

“Realistically, the investment isn’t going to come from within Canada to do a lot of those projects,” report author Michael Grant said in a phone interview from Vancouver.

“Even today it is a lot of foreign investment that’s coming in to fund these resources projects, so I think they’ve got to be realistic. (Projects) don’t get funded on their own account. It’s not like pension plans that say, ‘we’re going to through a bunch of money into Saskatchewan.’

“They fund them through companies and the companies tend to be global, foreign-owned companies.”

The report says major projects are likely to be done by large, multinational companies and points to the development of Saskatchewan’s potash industry where BHP Billiton, Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Agrium, Mosaic and K+S Potash are already at work.

The report also notes that Saskatchewan has welcomed some Chinese companies to do potash feasibility studies.

It says the province needs to prepare for the day when a major Chinese state-owned company decides to invest.

Investment follows savings and China is saving a lot, said Grant.

“Once that saving gets pooled in China, then it starts going out through China to the rest of the world and it just so happens for two reasons—first of all, state-owned enterprises are large enough to have global operations. Second of all, they tend to be focused in resources,” he said.

Grants points to the recent takeover of Alberta-based oil producer Nexen by China National Offshore Oil Corp., a state-owned company.

The federal government approved the Nexen takeover in December, but said new guidelines will limit similar deals in the future.

The conference board report says that change “may limit the availability of capital for very large projects.”

Grant also says a high-profile political objection to a deal could undermine the province’s reputation as a good place to invest.

The report says some financiers think Saskatchewan’s reputation was hurt by its opposition to BHP Billiton’s attempted takeover bid for Potash Corp. in 2010.

The Saskatchewan government spoke out against the US$40-billion bid and the deal was eventually blocked by the federal government because it did not pass a net benefit test under the Investment Canada Act based on strategic, fiscal and economic criteria.

Grant says being open to foreign investments leads to big projects, especially in oil and gas, uranium and potash.

That in turn boosts the economy and attracts people to the province, he said.

Saskatchewan is growing.

For example, Statistics Canada reported in February that for the third year in a row, the city of Saskatoon recorded the strongest growth of any census metropolitan area.

The agency said Saskatoon’s population increased by a rate of 40.4 per thousand—something no census metropolitan area had done in more than 15 years.

Saskatchewan’s capital city, Regina, had the second-largest population increase in Canada, with 31.5 per thousand.

But, Grant said, foreign investment policy needs to be clearer for businesses to come.

“These are such big projects and they really, really do not like political uncertainty around the projects,” he said.

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