When Chinese telecom manufacturer Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. unveiled plans to spend $50-million on a new research and development facility in Ottawa last spring, it may have ushered in a new era of foreign investment in Canada.
With the region still reeling from thousands of job losses related to the collapse of the once-mighty Nortel Networks Corp., Shenzhen-based Huawei's strategy to tap Ottawa's pool of highly skilled technology workers for its new facility was heralded as welcome relief for a battered part of the economy.
Now, there are further signs China is looking beyond Canada's resource sector for new investment opportunities that could help revive a besieged domestic manufacturing industry.
A survey of more than 1,300 mostly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from China shows strong interest in investing in Canadian manufacturing. About 8 per cent of the Chinese companies surveyed said they planned to invest in Canada within the next three years. Among those companies, the average size of intended overseas investment is $16.1-million (U.S.), according to the report prepared by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade.
Under the central government's so-called Go Global strategy, which encourages companies to invest abroad, China has become a powerful player in the international competition for foreign direct investment. While much of Europe and North America continued last year to struggle to recover from the global financial crisis, Chinese companies plowed about $50-billion into assets and companies abroad.
Canada's mining and energy sectors, and particularly the Alberta oil sands, have attracted the bulk of Chinese capital flowing into Canada in recent years. Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have made multibillion-dollar investments buying control of resource development projects in need of financing or taking minority stakes in assets that are already producing.
However, the report finds that among Chinese SMEs - which are defined as companies with less than 300 million renminbi ($45-million U.S.) in annual revenue - Canada's struggling manufacturers were deemed the most likely destination for investment. Among respondents planning to invest in Canada, 49 per cent described the manufacturing sector as a prospective destination for capital.
Chinese companies are interested in Canada's manufacturing sector not only for its access to the greater North American market, but also to acquire high-end technology and skilled managers and workers.
"Much of the investment is likely to help Chinese manufacturers move up the value chain. They're not looking for cheap labour that they can get in Thailand, the Philippines or African countries. They're looking for the kind of technological, management and marketing expertise that will allow them to become global companies," said Yuen Pau Woo, president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.
In addition to encouraging companies to invest abroad, China has recently loosened restrictions on offshore trading in its currency, which is expected to promote more overseas investments by Chinese firms.
As well, China Investment Corp., the country's $300-billion sovereign wealth fund, is setting up an office in Toronto to help identify investment opportunities in North America.