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Harper defends Potash decision Add to ...

Prime Minister Stephen Harper questioned whether any other country in the world would allow a corporate takeover of the kind Canada ultimately killed in rejecting BHP of Australia's hostile bid for Potash Corp.

Speaking following a two-day summit of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders that was heavily focused on opening global trade, the Prime Minister vowed that Ottawa will not only explain its decision when a legal 30-day time line expires but will also provide guidance to foreign investors who may now be confused as to where Canada stands.

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Mr. Harper noted Sunday that Canada and Australia have virtually the same rules when it comes to foreign investment. He made the comment after he confirmed that his government's rejection of BHP's takeover bid was raised with him by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard during private talks earlier.

The bilateral meeting with Ms. Gillard took place on the sidelines of the G20 in Seoul, which wrapped up Friday and was then followed by two days of meetings in Japan by leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

In response to a question Sunday, Mr. Harper confirmed the discussion.

"It has obviously come up in discussion with Prime Minister Gillard of Australia," said Mr. Harper, who did not provide details as to what Ms. Gillard said.

"The issue hasn't been raised in any other context by any other leader. It's important to note that Australia has exactly the same kind of review process for such acquisitions and I think it would be an interesting question to ask -- not one I'm in a position to answer today -- but an interesting question to ask whether any other country would approve a similar transaction. The fact of the matter is even with this decision, Canada has one of the most open investment regimes in the world."

The Harper government rejected the proposed hostile takeover of Saskatchewan's Potash Corp. by Australia's BHP earlier this month on the grounds that the deal would not have been a "net benefit" for Canada as defined under the Investment Canada Act.

It was only the second time Canada has ever rejected a corporate takeover and the decision immediately triggered demands for clearer rules as to the criteria Canada uses to rule on large foreign investments.

The Harper government has agreed to work on new rules under the Act.

"You're asking me about what message is the investment community to take from this decision, and of course, the truth of the matter is, as I've said in the House of Commons, I can't answer that today because the law prevents the government from commenting on the reasons for a decision until a 30-day period that is available for the company to make further representations is fully exhausted," said Mr. Harper.

"When the period expires, the government will be in a position not only to give reasons for the decision but to give broader guidance to the investment community on the kind of foreign investment it is and is not seeking within Canada."

When BHP's plans were first announced, there was little indication that the federal government would block the move. However the Harper government's decision came after strong lobbying against the deal by Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.



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