SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. – Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says a new trade deal with the European Union could mean billions for the uranium industry and his province.
Wall said Friday that the agreement-in-principle removes foreign ownership restrictions on uranium mining.
Current rules cap foreign ownership of uranium mines at 49 per cent.
“So right now, if you’re a European company and you want to invest in a mine in Saskatchewan you need to find a majority partner who’s Canadian and for some companies that has been a comfortable proposition, like Areva, they’ve done that,” said Wall.
French-based Areva has partnered on projects with Saskatoon-based Cameco, which is one of the world’s largest uranium producers.
“But I think they’ve all wanted at least the liberty to proceed with a majority ownership,” added Wall.
“And my understanding is that simply the provisions will be gone for these companies…and so they’ll be able to own a mine outright in the province if they choose to develop the resource.”
Saskatchewan is one of the world’s leading uranium producing regions.
Wall and industry players have been pushing Ottawa to relax the foreign ownership restrictions in the sector. He says the changing rules could mean $2.5 billion in investment in the province over the next decade.
Interest might come from mining giant Rio Tinto.
The premier met with the company on a trade mission to London in February 2012 and “this was a bother for them” he said.
“They thought, ‘Well, we would like to go ahead and develop a uranium mine. We wouldn’t necessarily want a partner,’ ” said Wall.
“And I think it’s been true for Areva, who have in the province for a long time, a good corporate citizen here already, sort of partnering when they wanted to make an investment here, who would also like the freedom to not have to partner.
“I just think it’s going to mean some potential expansion in (the) mining industry based on what companies have said.”
Rio Tinto bought Hathor Exploration, a junior Canadian uranium exploration company in January 2012. The new entity was renamed Rio Tinto Canada Uranium.
What Rio Tinto wanted was Hathor’s Roughrider uranium deposit in northern Saskatchewan.
Rio Tinto did not immediately return a call for comment Friday, but said in an email to The Canadian Press: “Rio Tinto welcomes CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) and the easing of Canadian restrictions on European Union investment in the uranium mining sector, as we believe policies that promote trade and foreign investment enhance the prosperity of Saskatchewan and other regions of Canada.”
— By Jennifer Graham in Regina