Canada's western provinces are ramping up plans to create an "energy powerhouse" that will boost sales of energy-related commodities to China, India and other booming Asian economies.
Under the recently formed New West Partnership, energy ministers from British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed a memorandum of understanding in Calgary yesterday. The alliance aims to improve access to Asian markets, as well as the development of resources in partnership with Asian investors.
While Canada's manufacturing and service-focused economies in the east have struggled, demand for oil, gas, coal and uranium from China and other Asian countries has been a key driver of economic growth in resource-rich Western Canada. With a widely criticized lack of focus on Asian trade by the federal government, Canada's three most western provinces have united to improve trade ties with the region.
"We think Asia is a major potential market for oil and gas and other commodities from Western Canada," Saskatchewan's Energy Minister Bill Boyd said in an interview.
The three provinces formed the New West Partnership in April. In May, the provincial premiers travelled to China and Japan to promote the alliance. During the tour, China National Petroleum Corp. (CNPC) signed a signed a memorandum of understanding with Saskatchewan that will see the state-controlled company evaluate investments in natural gas, heavy oil and carbon-capture projects.
"When it comes to natural resources, the provinces have the jurisdiction," Mr. Boyd said. "Positioning ourselves with the other provinces creates an energy powerhouse."
Under the new agreement, the provinces hope to streamline regulatory processes and promote the region as a source of energy commodities and a destination for energy-related investment and partnerships.
B.C. exports the most goods to Asia of any province. Exports reached $9.4-billion in 2009. Alberta exports to Asia were $6.3-billion and Saskatchewan's were $4.2-billion. Ontario, meanwhile exported $5.8-billion worth of goods to Asia last year.
Mr. Boyd said Saskatchewan is pressing the federal government to lift restrictions on foreign investment in uranium to allow Chinese companies to invest in projects to mine the metal, which is used to fuel nuclear reactors.
Asian energy companies have spent billions investing in western oil and gas projects this year. Korea National Oil Company (KNOC) struck a deal this week to buy out the remainder of Hunt Oil Co. Canada for $525-million.
That followed an agreement last fall that saw KNOC acquire Harvest Energy Trust for $1.8-billion.
In early December, Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production said it will buy 40 per cent of Statoil's Kai Kos Dehseh project for $2.3-billion (U.S.).
The most expensive Asian energy purchase so far this year saw China's Sinopec Corp.'s offer $4.65-billion for ConocoPhillips' 9 per cent stake in the Syncrude joint venture.
Steve Thomson, B.C.'s Energy Minister said the MOU sends the message that the three provinces are working together to increase trade and investment in the energy sector.
"There is strength in numbers," he said.
The collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008 has forced Canadian industry to look to emerging markets in Asia for new trade opportunities. But the federal government has failed to sign any free-trade agreements with Asian countries. This month, the United States signed a free-trade pact with South Korea, highlighting the disadvantage Canadian companies have with no such agreements in place.