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British Columbia Premier Christy Clark in Surrey, B.C., on Tuesday October 8, 2013.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

B.C. Premier Christy Clark is leading a trade mission to Asia that will seek to strengthen ties with energy companies and tap into a fast-growing but crowded investment market.

Ms. Clark and her delegation will leave Vancouver on Thursday for Beijing, and topping the agenda is British Columbia's push for further investment in the province's emerging liquefied natural gas industry.

The B.C. delegation will arrive on Friday in Beijing, where LNG will be the focus of discussions. Other stops on the trip will include Seoul and Tokyo.

A study released this month by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada pointed out that China invested $12-billion in Canada in 2012, placing ninth-highest in a ranking of foreign direct investment. The United States topped the list of major investor countries in Canada with $326.1-billion, or 51.5 per cent of the total.

Canada has to compete for Asian investment, and that includes efforts such as provincial trade missions, said the Vancouver-based foundation, which conducted the study with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade and Simon Fraser University's Jack Austin Centre for Asia Pacific Business Studies.

The group's survey of Chinese firms found that only 6 per cent of the respondents chose Canada as a preferred destination for planned direct foreign investment.

"Premier Clark has made trade missions to Asia a necessary component of her job, especially when she has raised the ambition for British Columbia to be more Asia-focused," foundation president Yuen Pau Woo said in an interview Wednesday. "We have to be visible in the major Asian markets."

One of the planned events for B.C. delegates will be a visit to an Asian LNG site. "I hope the Premier will visit an LNG receiving terminal so that she can help British Columbians visualize the enormity of the LNG export opportunity in Asia," Mr. Woo said.

He noted that the three countries to be visited – China, South Korea and Japan – are all major importers of LNG. Japan is the world's largest importer of LNG, while demand in China is surging.

B.C. International Trade Minister Teresa Wat, whose portfolio includes the province's Asia Pacific strategy, said Asian investment is crucial to the growth of British Columbia's economy. She said Ms. Clark will be touting British Columbia's advantage of having ports closer to Asia than rival LNG producers in other countries.

Last week, CNOOC Ltd. of China and two Japanese partners cleared a key hurdle in their bid to pursue an LNG project at Grassy Point, near Prince Rupert, after reaching a deal with the B.C. government.

Energy giants from Asian countries have shown a keen interest in British Columbia's nascent LNG sector. A project led by Shell Canada Ltd. is planned for Kitimat, with PetroChina, Japan's Mitsubishi Corp. and South Korea's Kogas on board as partners. Another proposal is headed by Malaysia's Petronas, which has enlisted Japan Petroleum Exploration to help construct an LNG export terminal near Prince Rupert.

More than 180 people will take part in the trade mission, including executives who are shepherding LNG projects. Leaders from labour and First Nations are among the other participants.

Ellis Ross, chief councillor of the Haisla First Nation near Kitimat, said it will be important to ensure that LNG projects respect the land and water in northwestern British Columbia. The Haisla are partners in the Douglas Channel LNG proposal. "It's got to be based on environmental stewardship principles – our environmental stewardship principles that meet or beat provincial or federal standards," he said.

There are at least 10 proposals for building LNG terminals near Kitimat, Prince Rupert and Grassy Point, but industry experts say there is only room for three or four projects at most.