Canadian miners caught in the middle – by Jason Fekete (Vancouver Sun – October 11, 2013)

Spying allegations latest issue facing companies working in Latin America

Allegations of Canada spying on Brazil’s mines and energy ministry could prove the latest political and economic headache for Canadian extractive companies already encountering problems operating in Latin America.

Federal government documents obtained by Postmedia News under access to information laws show Canadian companies – trying to improve a bruised reputation – face increasing political uncertainty and challenges earning “social licence” in Latin American countries such as Brazil, Chile and Mexico, even before the latest spying allegations.

The Canadian government is being accused at home and abroad of industrial espionage, following allegations the supersecret Communications Security Establishment Canada targeted the metadata of emails and phone calls to and from the Brazilian ministry of mines and energy.

Questions are also mounting about what specific information Canadian security agencies and federal officials have been sharing with Canadian energy companies during secret meetings. The spying allegations are on top of problems that Natural Resources Canada says are facing Canadian extractive companies operating across Latin America.

“Political uncertainty in a number of Latin American and Caribbean countries is placing Canadian mining companies and their operations at risk,” say briefing notes prepared in 2012 for Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, and just recently released to Postmedia News under access to information.

“The ability of Canadian companies to earn a social licence to operate in the region is becoming increasingly difficult. In some jurisdictions, actions undertaken by companies as good corporate social responsibility practices are being refused and characterized as ‘buying communities.’ ”

In some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been a “fundamental shift by governments” away from welcoming foreign investors to develop their natural resources, explains the briefing material to the minister.

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