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2014 Summary Report


As China’s global outward investment has grown in significance over the past two decades, there has been intense interest in understanding the overall picture and trends of Chinese investment, particularly on the nature and activities of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). However, despite this interest, reliable data on the prevalence of Chinese investment in Canada has been scarce and for a variety of reasons tend to under-report some investments. 

The aim of the China Institute’s China-Canada Investment Tracker project was to develop and maintain a comprehensive database of investments by Chinese firms in Canadian companies and assets. Our dataset covers more than 250 acquisitions, equity investments, and joint ventures in Canada by Chinese-controlled entities over the last twenty years, with a cumulative value of close to CAD$52 billion.

Collected from public sources and verified through independent research, our work represents the most comprehensive dataset of Chinese investment transactions in Canada. The China-Canada Investment Tracker database includes details on the type of investment, target and acquiring companies, ownership stake acquired, value, sector, and location for investment transactions.

Key Findings

Chinese investment in Canada is growing:

  • The value of Chinese investments in Canada reached a total of approximately CAD$51.9 billion between 1993 and August 2014.
  • Chinese investment increased substantially in Canada after 2005, possibly benefiting from decentralization of the Chinese outward investment approval authority and the reform of investment regulations after 2004, as part of the Chinese government’s “Go Global” strategy.

Chinese investors are interested in Canadian energy and mining:

  • Energy investments significantly outweighed investments in other sectors, by far, accounting for 78% of the cumulative value.
  • The metals/minerals sector was the second-largest recipient of Chinese investment, capturing approximately 19% of the cumulative value.
  • Alberta and British Columbia are the top destinations for Chinese investment, with 73% and 17% of the cumulative value in our database, respectively.

Major deals are driven by SOEs:

  • SOEs account for 90% of the total transaction value of Chinese investment over the past twenty years and are involved in investment deals of all sizes, ranging from hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars.
  • The average deal value for SOEs is CAD$395 million, compared to CAD$45 million for private investors. Of the 50 transactions valued at over CAD$100 million, SOEs were responsible for 38 cases.
  • Chinese investments peaked in 2013, with the completion of the CAD$15.1 billion acquisition of Nexen by CNOOC. 

Overview of Major Chinese Investment Policy Changes

The establishment of the Chinese outward investment regulatory system can be traced back to the early 1980s, with the advent of comprehensive economic reforms in China. However, due to a strict approval scheme and tight foreign exchange controls, firms engaged in outward investment were mainly SOEs operating in overseas processing and assembling industries. Statistics from the Investment Tracker database show that Chinese investment in Canada only totaled approximately CAD$220 million between 1993 and 2003. 

Following closely after the promotion of the “Go Global” policy as a national strategy in 2000, the Chinese central government initiated a series of pilot projects in outward investment regulation, which eventually led to the beginning of a broad ongoing reform process in 2004. The post-2004 reforms of these policies can be divided into three major stages.

In 2004, the Chinese State Council indicated the government’s intention to replace the existing “approval scheme” for outward investment with an “authorization scheme”. Instead of reviewing every proposed overseas investment over US$1 million, the State Council designated provincial governments to authorize outward investment projects that are worth less than US$30 million in resource sectors, and US$10 million in other industries. Decentralization of approval authority and relaxation of foreign exchange controls provided firms investing overseas, especially SOEs directly controlled by the Chinese central government, more autonomy over their investment decisions. Stimulated by the easing of outward investment regulations, Chinese investments in Canada reached CAD$6.5 billion between 2004 and 2008, based on figures from our database. 

The second wave of reform came in 2009 and 2011. Chinese provincial governments gained further autonomy over approval of outward investment projects valued at US$300 million or less in resource sectors and US$100 million in other industries, while the central government placed more emphasis on supervising overseas state assets and enhancing the public image of Chinese investment. Observations captured in our database show that more than CAD$45 billion worth of Chinese investment deals in Canada have completed since the beginning of this second stage of reforms in 2009. 

In the latest changes to the regulatory scheme in 2014, the Chinese government officially removed the authorization requirements that were based specifically on the size of the proposed outward investment, while most of the privileges for centrally controlled SOEs in the application process have also been abolished.

China-Canada Investment Outlook

In 2012, following the purchase of Nexen by CNOOC Ltd, concerns over the risks to national and long-term economic security posed by foreign SOEs were mounting. As a result, the Government of Canada announced that future oil sands investment by SOEs that involves controlling interest in a Canadian oil sands company would be approved only on an “exceptional basis”.

While Canadian regulations towards foreign investment by SOEs have been tightened, China has been making efforts to improve the transparency of its outward-bound investment. Most recently, in September 2014, the Chinese government revised its regulatory measures, demonstrating its increasing willingness to encourage and support outward investments by both private and state-owned enterprises. The new regulations streamline the application procedures by introducing a simplified filing process for most projects, further shortening review time and restricting the need for approval to only those cases that involve sensitive countries, regions, or industries.

In October 2014, the Canadian government ratified the Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) signed in 2012 by Canada and China. Among those investments that this agreement is designed to safeguard are energy projects, the predominant type of investments by Chinese enterprises in Canada. FIPA provides firms from both countries valuable protection against discriminatory and arbitrary practices and allows them to access the dispute resolution mechanisms in cases of perceived prejudicial treatment. 

The Chinese government wishes to effectively deploy its abundant foreign exchange reserves and secure the country’s growing energy needs. Streamlined Chinese regulations, the ratification of the FIPA, and the recent announcement of an agreement to establish a RMB trading hub in Canada all have the potential to renew interest in Chinese outbound investments to Canada, especially in the energy and natural resource sectors. 

Over time, we would expect to see a diversification of Chinese investment sectors and an increase in investment from private Chinese companies.


The China-Canada Investment Tracker dataset is based on data drawn from public sources. We first identified a list of mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, asset purchases, and equity investments by Chinese entities in Canada. China Institute researchers then independently verified details of the investment deals through newswire services, official reports, company documents, and other publicly sourced information. Where necessary, corrections and updates were made to the initial dataset. The dataset will continue to be refined and updated on an ongoing basis. 

Our dataset includes deals involving investors based in both mainland China and Hong Kong, as well as investors based outside of these jurisdictions with a majority Chinese ownership. We categorized Chinese acquirers as either private or state-owned, based on the ultimate ownership of the acquiring company, determined using official filings, company publications, or other documents. Where deals were conducted by Hong Kong-based affiliates of mainland firms, we treated the transaction as originating in mainland China.

For More Information

For an annual fee, subscribers to the China-Canada Investment Tracker have access to the full details of each investment transaction included in the tracker dataset, as well as regular updates on Chinese investment activity in Canada through our website. Subscribers will also receive a discount when registering for the China Institute’s conferences.

This project is part of the China Institute’s mission to advance the study of the economic and political dimensions of contemporary China through policy-relevant research. Our ongoing activities in this area include the Annual National Forum on Chinese Investment in Canada, the China Institute’s flagship event that brings together scholars, policy-makers, industry leaders, and others to highlight and discuss recent investment trends and policy perspectives.

We anticipate that the data gathered for the China-Canada Investment Tracker will facilitate and supplement future analyses into the trends and policy implications of Chinese investment in Canada.

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