Are We Losing the Race?

Before answering that question, I should probably say who we are running against, which would be emerging economies. Most Canadians, myself included, have been lamenting as of late about Canada losing large and important head offices to foreign takeovers. How (and can we?) compete against new multinational companies coming out of obscurity of emerging economies?

Well, emerging economies are throwing a powerful challenge at us. Forbes magazine recently came up with a list of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly traded companies. From that number, 378 came from emerging economies. Note that oil giants from the Middle East, which control more than half of the world’s known oil and gas reserves, did not even make the list. In case you’re wondering where these multinational corporations are located, we are talking about Shanghai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Istanbul, Hong Kong, etc.

Now, let’s see how it works in “life-size” examples, so to speak. For example, the Brazilian mining giant bidding for Inco, Compania Vale do Rio Doce, is so big that no Canadian company can even reach the size of its shadow. Then there is Petrobras- Petroleo Brazil, which is one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, and Embraer, the company that has partnered with Bombardier in one cool sweep, thus becoming the world’s third largest aircraft building company.

Switching to a different continent, no matter how much in love we are, and how proud we are of Inco, in the world where size matters, Inco is simply eclipsed by Russia’s Norilsk Nickel. Then there is Gazprom, an oil and gas giant in Russia, and RUSAL, another company entering the global community. If this is not enough, think of South Korea and Taiwan, two countries that were once impoverished, but which have managed to parachute onto the world’s stage within one generation only.

Finally, there is China and India. In China, there are Petro-China, China Petroleum, and China Minmetals Corp., all three competing against Canada’s energy and mining powerhouses. As far as technology goes, Cisco, Nortel, IBM and others should watch for Huwaei Technologies Co. and many others. India is also hitting all the right notes with tech and pharmaceutical companies.

The next million dollar, or more likely, a billion dollar question is how Canada compares, how can we stay competitive stay in the race? Well, letting our giants, however “small” in comparison, to be taken over by foreign companies is a surefire way to lose that race. Another is fundamental indecisiveness and lack of vision in Ottawa, which keeps on approving these takeovers, stating in its defense something called “net benefit,” an ambiguous, and thus inherently weak argument.