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NEWS: Indian companies eye tar sands as Canada-India free trade talks proceed

The Globe and Mail reports, “A number of Indian companies are in ‘discussions’ to acquire or invest in Alberta’s energy companies… Private and state-owned companies are exploring potential purchases of the Alberta oil-sands properties owned by ConocoPhillips Co. Among those potential acquirers is a consortium of state-owned oil and gas companies from India including ONGC Videsh Ltd., Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. and Oil India Ltd., according to published reports.”

At the World Economic Forum this past January, Stephen Harper pledged to the global corporate audience there, “We will work to complete negotiations on a free-trade agreement with India in 2013.”

A primary concern with free trade agreements is often the investor-state provision that allows corporations to sue governments over public interest legislation that affects their profits – and the chill effect that has on needed environmental protection legislation.

An interesting twist here is that a Wall Street Journal-affiliated newspaper in India reported earlier this year, “India is likely to exclude in bilateral trade pacts a clause that permits a foreign investor to sue the host country at an international dispute settlement agency. The department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) has in principle decided not to include such a condition, an official said on condition of anonymity, which allows firms of the partner country investing in India to take legal action against the government at a global forum in case of any dispute.”

Council of Canadians trade campaigner Stuart Trew has pointed out that, “The Australian government issued a trade policy which not only expressed concern about the impact of investor-state disputes on environmental and public health policy at home, but stated, ‘If Australian businesses are concerned about sovereign risk in Australian trading partner countries, they will need to make their own assessments about whether they want to commit to investing in those countries.'”

We’ll keep an eye on this.