Canada has threatened a trade war with European Union over the bloc's plan to label oil from Alberta's vast tar sands as highly polluting, the Guardian can reveal, before a key vote in Brussels on 23 February.
"Canada will not hesitate to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organisation," state letters sent to European commissioners by Canada's ambassador to the EU and its oil minister.
The move is a significant escalation of the row over the EU's plans, which Canada fears would set a global precedent and derail its ability to exploit its tar sands, which are the biggest fossil fuel reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia. Environmental groups argue that exploitation of the tar sands, also called oil sands, is catastrophic for the global climate, as well as the cause of serious air and water pollution in Alberta.
On 12 February, the occurrence of a secret strategy "retreat" in London in 2011 was discovered. High-level officials discussed the "critical" issue of winning the tar sands argument in the EU, to "mitigate the impact on the Canadian brand" and to protect the "huge investments from the likes of Shell, BP, Total and Statoil". Representatives of Shell, Total and Statoil attended the meeting.