Whatever China is looking for, the Northwest Territories has got it. That was the message Premier Bob McLeod wanted members of government and business to take away from his trade mission to China last week with a group of Canadian premiers and business delegates.
Diamonds, furs, gold, minerals, oil and gas, tourism – even hydro – all are up for grabs for Chinese investors if they want it, McLeod told China’s business industry in Beijing and Shanghai.
“The Northwest Territories welcomes foreign investment in our territory,” he announced during a premiers’ panel at the Canada Chinese Business Council. “The Northwest Territories’ economy has been built on luxury items – furs, gold and now diamonds…Today our mineral resources are still our biggest asset and represent the best investment opportunity for China. More oil and clean natural gas deposits are being found every year. And the Mackenzie River has some of the best underdeveloped hydroelectric resources in North America.”
McLeod told The Journal the goal of the announcement was to gauge the amount of interest in different sectors.
“We understand, and it was reinforced in China, that the Chinese have a lot of capital to invest in different projects, and so we wanted to determine the amount of interest that there was,” he said. “It was more in general terms; it wasn’t specific.”
Though concern has been raised over foreign ownership in Alberta’s oilsands as investment and company buy-outs by the Chinese grow, McLeod said he doesn’t expect the same worries to arise in the North.
“If we can’t find partners to invest in the North and the Chinese are willing to do so, I think we’d obviously want to see that,” he said. “We’d obviously need some clear rules of engagement and we would expect some reciprocity when and if we invest in China, as well.”
According to the premier, the majority of Chinese interest currently lies in oil and gas, as well as mining.
“There was interest in rare earth, gold, silver and, obviously, diamonds as well,” he said. “There was quite a lot of interest expressed, there were requests for more information and there were indications that some of the leaders were interested in setting up groups to look up potential for investments in the Northwest Territories.”
While in China, McLeod and the other premiers met with leaders in the Chinese government, including the vice premier, ministers and the vice-mayor of Shanghai – China’s foreign investment capital.
McLeod and his entourage of business delegates also took the opportunity to set up side meetings, including a visit to the Suntech solar panel manufacturing facility in Shanghai, which is seen as an option to decrease communities’ dependence on diesel in the territory.
“This is an area we’d like to do a lot more of in the Northwest Territories to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” McLeod said.
Other meetings addressed mining, oil and gas, diamonds, tourism, and a special emphasis on wild furs. China has bought 60 per cent of wild furs from Canada in the last few years.
“A lot of people wear fur. Animal rights haven’t made significant inroads into China,” McLeod said. “The message is very clear that they want us to increase our production, and I think in the last few years, the price of fur has increased because of the Chinese uptake of Canadian wild furs.”
Accompanying McLeod were president and CEO of Avalon Rare Metals Don Bubar, CEO of Fur Harvesters Auction Inc. Mark Downey, Verda Law of Yellowknife Tours and Blatchford Lake Lodge’s tourism contact in China, Huizhong Yang, along with various government officials.
“I think all the members of our business delegation were very pleased and thought it was a very worthwhile trip, and I think they see a lot of opportunities for business,” McLeod said.