Canada gets more than just pandas in black and white as Harper signs China uranium deal

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced on Thursday a deal that will provide Canadian uranium producers more access to the Middle Kingdom's nuclear power industry.

Harper is heading a 40-strong delegation of Canadian business leaders who have signed more than 20 deals worth $3 billion over the course of the trip. Overall trade between the two countries surged to almost $50 billion in 2011, according to official figures.

The new agreement is in the form of Protocol that will supplement the Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for Co-operation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy of 1994 says the official statement.

Canada’s nuclear-energy industry generates some $6.6 billion in annual revenue, $1.2 billion in exports each year and employs roughly 31,000 people according to Harper's office.

China is proposing 100 reactors by 2030 and 197 by 2050. Unlike the development of the nuclear industry in Canada, the US and France, in China the industry is being spearheaded by government, allowing a much more ambitious program.

Thursday announcement will be a relief for the industry hard hit by the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant last March which had uranium investors fleeing for the exits.

While the nuclear fuel used to make yellowcake had enjoyed something of a renaissance (after tanking in 2008-09 due to the financial crisis) in the runup to the earthquake and tsunami that rocked Japan, all that changed in the aftermath of the quake.

Read more on the outlook for the global uranium mining sector…

Bloomberg reports the visit highlights efforts by Canada to diversify energy sales as the US absorbs 97% of Canadian oil exports:

Chinese state-owned companies have invested more than $16 billion in Canadian energy in the past two years and hope to gain steady supplies to fuel their country's booming economy.

The Ottawa Citizen reports China and Canada are exploring the feasibility of a full free-trade agreement:

The two countries have agreed that a joint economic study being conducted will be completed by May 2012, "after which Canada and China will proceed to exploratory discussions on deepening trade and economic relations."

That news follows up their announcement Wednesday that negotiations have concluded on a foreign-investment-protection agreement nearly 20 years in the making, but which still faces a legal review and ratification before it becomes law.

The uranium deal was not the only agreement Harper got in black and white: He also helped secure Calgary and Toronto a panda bear pair for the next decade. The Vancouver Sun reports pandas can be an expensive undertaking:

Calgary was loaned a pair of giant pandas in 1988, the year the city hosted the Winter Olympics. People lined up for as long as two hours to see the lovable duo of Qun Qun and Xi Xi.

Some zoos pay as much as $1 million for a short-term loan of the endangered pandas. However, officials from the Panda Acquisition Task Force at the Toronto Zoo have previously said "special friends" can sometimes get them for half the price.