AFL on PRC: Labour group weighs in on China's energy interests

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has added its voice to those worried about the ramifications of Canada's role in China's energy plans.

Following Prime Minister Stephen Harper's approval of state-run China National Offshore Oil Corporation's (CNOOC) takeover of Nexen, the AFL released China's Gas Tank, a report outlining how it believes China is moving to control all stages of its Alberta oil operations.

The report says three state-owned Chinese oil companies, CNOOC, PetroChina and Sinopec, have major investments in the oilsands. It points out these companies' U.S. tax filings admit the three companies are affiliated and sell oil to one another. Chinese state and private investment in the oilsands is unclear, but significant. For example, Chinese-owned Sunshine Oilsands "holds seven per cent of the total oilsands leases in the Athabasca region, or 1.15 million acres of oilsands leases," according to the report.

The report also points to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would run from Alberta to the British Columbia coastline and is ostensibly intended to ease shipment of oil and natural gas to Asian markets. Sinopec is one of the 11 companies investing in that pipeline. Four remain unidentified.

Finally, the AFL asserts the Canadian federal government did a poor job negotiating the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) with China, and should renegotiate before it is officially passed.

"From our perspective the big problem is that the Chinese have interests that run counter to the interests of the Canadian public," says AFL president Gil McGowan. "It's clear that the Chinese are assembling the pieces necessary for what we would describe as a low price strategy for Canadian bitumen.

"What I've been told by people in government and in industry is that we can't be picky about what we send to those markets... we basically have to give them whatever they want.... Frankly I don't buy that argument because they need us more than we need them. But it's not challenged," he says.

Gordon Holden, director of the University of Alberta's China Institute, echoes McGowan's observations. He says China is not happy buying oil from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, and is looking for more stable sources.

"Alberta is rock solid in terms of the manner of doing business — relatively transparent, but also just without the complications," says Holden.

McGowan says the AFL, which represents 27 labour unions in Alberta, is not alone in its alarm over Canada's hasty business dealings with China. Even internationally, the public is asking Canada to slow down. U.K.-based is an online campaign network with 17 million members that develops petitions and protest campaigns on social and environmental issues it believes are important to its members.

Avaaz is currently campaigning against the present form of the Canada-China FIPA. Nearly 38,000 people have pledged support to the campaign.

"As the owners of the resource, I think Albertans deserve to know what's going on and what's being lost, but they don't," says McGowan.

Fast Forward Weekly, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012
Byline: Susy Thompson for News

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