Ottawa to elaborate on PotashCorp ruling
Last Updated: Monday, November 15, 2010 | 1:30 PM CST
Ottawa will offer more details in the coming days on why BHP Billiton's bid for PotashCorp failed the "net benefit" test under the Investment Canada Act, Industry Minister Tony Clement said Sunday.Industry Minister Tony Clement rejected BHP Billiton's takeover bid for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan on Nov. 3. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Earlier this month, Clement rejected the Australian mining giant's $40-billion takeover attempt, claiming it did not meet the net benefit test that all takeovers of more than $299 million must pass.
On Nov. 3, Ottawa gave BHP 30 days to come back to the table with a better offer, but on Sunday night, the company withdrew its offer outright.
Ottawa's demands would have conflicted with the company's business strategy and would have been counter to creating shareholder value, BHP said in a statement Sunday.
In withdrawing, CEO Marius Kloppers took the unusual step of outlining all the benefits he said the merger would have meant for all stakeholders, but renewed his company's commitment to "develop a significant presence in the potash industry in Saskatchewan."
The company has claim to 14,000 square kilometres of exploration rights in the province, including its most significant development, the Jansen project.
Also Monday, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall unveiled a marketing campaign aimed at promoting the province as a place to invest, despite the blocked takeover.
Details of the campaign — with the theme of Real Growth, Real Opportunity — were posted on the province's website.
Evidence of its success would be whether BHP follows through with developing the Jansen property, says Gavin Graham, global investment strategist at Excel Fund Management.
"It will be interesting to see what BHP does, with their big Jansen potash project — if they continue to spend the money, if they end up spending several billion dollars despite having been turned down for the bid for PotashCorp, you'd have to feel that Mr. Wall is correct," Graham told CBC News.Three-month stock chart for Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan on the TSX. (CBC)
Clement said Sunday he will be explaining "in the coming days" how he interprets factors under the act. Clement deemed the BHP bid failed three of the six requirements of "net benefit" as outlined in the act.
"Within some people's minds it has raised issues about what the ground rules are going to be henceforth, so that's why I believe it's prudent for me to explain in a little bit more detail," he said.
Also, on Sunday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper — speaking in Yokohama, Japan, where he was attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit — said Australia had earlier taken him to task over the decision to block the bid for PotashCorp.
Broad guidance to investment interests planned
Harper said he pointed out that Canada and Australia have almost identical investment review regimes. And he questioned whether any other country in the world would have allowed such a deal.
"The government will be in a position not only to give reasons for the decision, but to give broader guidance to the investment community on the kind of foreign investment it is and is not seeking,” Harper was quoted by Bloomberg as saying Sunday, hours before BHP made the withdrawal public.
Clement acknowledged there may be ways to improve the review process under the Investment Canada Act when it comes to major foreign investments.
"I don't think our position is in any way to the detriment as a result of this decision being made," he said.Three-month stock chart for BHP's U.S.-listed stock. (CBC)
"I think that when you have a law in place … to be considered for foreign investment, it stands to reason that in many cases those foreign investments would be approved, but there may be some cases where they would not be approved and I think foreign investors understand that," Clement said.
NDP Leader Jack Layton called the deal's demise a victory for the power of public opinion.
"I think voters learn here if they raise their voices strongly enough, it can have an impact."
The New Democrats planned to press ahead with a motion this week to get more transparency in the Canada Investment Act so it's not such a "shadowy operation behind closed doors," Layton added.
Sylvain Charlebois, associate dean and food distribution professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, noted that 99 per cent of Canada's potash output is exported, so the issue was always more politically motivated than based on economics or domestic food security.
"As we move forward, an assessment of our agricultural policies and marketing practices in the context of the rapidly changing world of agricultural commodities is long overdue," he said.
Despite the bid's failure, he predicted the issue will not go away. Another round of consolidation among potash miners in Canada is coming, as is a drastic change in the role of the Canpotex board in affecting potash prices.With files from The Canadian Press
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