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Ottawa to issue new rules on foreign takeovers ‘fairly soon’

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the government will announce new guidelines for foreign takeovers "fairly soon."

The Minister said the government is aware of the need to clarify the rules for approval of big acquisitions, but is taking all the time it needs because the issue is important.

"I can say it's being given priority... It will be fairly soon," he said.

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Ottawa is considering two controversial acquisitions in the energy sector – the $15-billion bid for Nexen Inc. by a Chinese state-owned enterprise, and the $6-billion purchase of Progress Energy Resources by Malaysia's national oil and gas company Petronas.

While Mr. Flaherty didn't give a specific date for the new guidelines, the government is staring down a Dec. 10 deadline on the Nexen deal.

However, Industry Minister Christian Paradis said Wednesday the Nexen review could be extended a third time, but added not to read too much into that.

"This is a deadline that could be extended, but once again, I won't speculate ... I don't want to send a signal. Don't interpret anything from what I'm saying here."

Ottawa has previously delayed its decision on both deals in part because it wanted to establish new rules under the Investment Canada Act. That move is in anticipation that Nexen and Progress are just the tip of the iceberg of growing foreign interest in Canada's rich resource sector.

Mr. Paradis said he could not go even as far as the Finance Minister about when the decisions are coming down, or whether he will issue new guidelines before ruling specifically on the company bids.

"I can say stay tuned, I don't want to go further than this," he said. "The markets are sensitive and I prefer not to elaborate."

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Last week, Mr. Paradis suggested the new guidelines could come separately from the decision on the two bids, and that the Nexen and Progress Energy review is based on the existing definition of the "net benefit" to Canada test in the act.

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