Canada is still open to investments from foreign state-owned firms in its energy sector, and it is keen to diversify its export markets to Asia to reduce its reliance on the United States, the country's foreign affairs minister said. John Baird, who made the remarks at an Asia Society luncheon yesterday, said: "Canada is open for business, we are open for foreign investment and the jobs and economic opportunities that they present." In December, Canada banned foreign state-owned firms from buying controlling stakes in Canada's oil sands projects, which are considered to have strategic importance to the nation, except for exceptional cases it did not describe. The new regulation came after CNOOC, China's dominant offshore oil and gas producer, made a US$15 billion bid for Nexen, based in the province of Alberta, which has oil sands and unconventional natural gas projects in Canada, as well as assets in the North Sea and elsewhere. The bid, at a 61 per cent premium to Nexen's pre-bid market value, was subjected to months of scrutiny by Ottawa to ensure it had net benefits for Canada. The country has the world's second-largest oil reserves thanks to its rich oil sands deposits, a mixture of clay, sand, water and bitumen, a sticky, black, energy-rich substance that is expensive to extract and refine before it can be used as fuel. But since the only customer of oil produced from Canada's oil sands is the United States, the oil fetches US$24 a barrel less than the West Texas Intermediate benchmark in the US. The refusal by US President Barack Obama to approve a pipeline from Canada to the US last year gave "a wake-up call" to Canada, Baird said. He said it was a national priority that a pipeline be built to the Pacific west coast from Alberta to export oil to Asia.