‘New day’ for Canada’s uranium market as free trade deal pushes industry past Cold War era

Date of Article: October 22, 2013

Source: Ottawa Citizen

Author: Perter Koven

Link: www.ottawacitizen.com/business/fp/Canada+uranium+market+free+trade+deal+pushes+industry+past+Cold/9066177/story.html

More than 20 years after the Cold War ended, Saskatchewan’s uranium sector is finally moving past it.

Following years of lobbying from Premier Brad Wall, the federal government has agreed to strike down foreign ownership restrictions on uranium mining in its proposed free trade deal with Europe. It opens the door for eager foreign companies like Areva SA and Rio Tinto Ltd. to make much larger investments in Saskatchewan’s uranium-rich Athabasca Basin.

“In terms of uranium mining, it’s certainly a new day,” says Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.


“From the moment we were elected [in 2007], we’ve been working with the federal government on this,” Mr. Wall said in an interview. “In terms of uranium mining, it’s certainly a new day.”

The investment restrictions have been in place since 1970, when Ottawa introduced the non-residential ownership policy (or NROP). The law prevents foreign companies from owning more than 49% of a uranium mine in Canada, unless they cannot find a Canadian partner. It is a direct result of Cold War-era concerns about nuclear proliferation, and has looked increasingly dated in the years since then. Saskatchewan is the only province with producing uranium mines, so it is the only one affected by the law.

Over the last several years, foreign companies became more confident that the NROP was nearing an end.

In 2008, Canada’s Competition Policy Review Panel recommended the foreign ownership restrictions be lifted. And in 2011, Rio Tinto made a direct challenge to them. The Anglo-Australian mining giant paid $654-million for a Saskatchewan uranium deposit, even though the rules forbid Rio from owning more than 49% once it goes into production.

Rio said it welcomed the easing of the Canadian restrictions. Areva, a French nuclear company with minority stakes in many Saskatchewan uranium projects, said it is a positive development.

The NROP has limited the competition for Canadian uranium leader Cameco Corp., which owns stakes in most of the major projects in the Athabasca.


Cameco’s position has been that the NROP should remain in place unless other countries open up to uranium investment as well. Many nations have similar restrictions as Canada, also due to Soviet-era policies. International uranium companies have been forced to spend billions of dollars in Kazakhstan, because it is one of the few places that welcomes their money.

While this free trade deal may open up the European market for Saskatoon-based Cameco, there are no obvious uranium resource opportunities on the continent that are worth developing, spokesman Gord Struthers said. All the same, he said Cameco is fine with the change to the NROP as long as it includes “reciprocal access” with the EU. Europe accounted for 21% of the company’s uranium sales last year.

“This has been coming for quite some time,” Mr. Struthers said.

For now, the lifting of the NROP applies only to Europe. That resolves the issue for Saskatchewan, since the major foreign investors in the Athabasca Basin are all European. But Mr. Wall said he suggested to Ottawa that the restrictions be lifted for other countries as well, with the same limits on investment from state-owned enterprises as other sectors of the Canadian economy.

“They may or may not open it up. That’s up to them,” he said.

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