Under US pressure, Canada plans to curb foreign-investment barriers

The Canadian government, under pressure from the Reagan administration to curb its nationalistic economic policies, will not increase existing restrictions on foreign investment in Canada.

The Liberal Party regime said in its Nov. 12 economic message - the budget - that it is putting off any moves to extend its controversial Canada-first energy policy to other areas of the economy.

''The special measures being employed under the national energy program to achieve more Canadian ownership and control of the oil and gas industries are not appropriate for other sectors,'' said Finance Minister Allan MacEachen.

This amounted to a major reversal for the administration of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who promised publicly during the 1980 national election campaign to broaden Canada's regulation of multinationals wishing to operate here.

The vehicle for this activity is the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA). This government body, much criticized by businessmen in the Untied States, Europe, and Japan, was set up in 1974 to ensure that Canada receives sufficient benefit from foreign takeovers of domestic firms.

The possibility that the agency's powers would be increased had deeply alarmed US officials already upset about Ottawa's energy program. Under that program, introduced in November 1980, the government is using preferential tax and other measures to reduce foreign control of the oil and gas industry to 50 percent by 1990 from the current 70 percent.

Spurred on by American oil companies with subsidiaries here, the Reagan administration and the US Congress have threatened retaliatory trade measures if Ottawa does not ease off its nationalistic approach.

Canada's budget was thus an obvious attempt to defuse an increasingly explosive rift with the US. But it seems unlikely that Ottawa's renunciation of its new plans for the FIRA will in itself resolve the dispute with Washington.

Washington had hoped to see changes in the energy program to eliminate rules that US officials believe discriminate against American businesses. Also, the Reagan administration would like Ottawa to dismantle some of FIRA's powers, not just abandon plans to give the agency more clout. There was no indication in the budget that Ottawa intends to respond to either of these US requests.

In fact, Maceachen reiterated the Trudeau government's position that both the FIRA and the national energy program are here to stay.

Of the latter, Mr. MacEachen said, ''This program is a great national undertaking which has the support of the vast majority of the Canadian people.''

Assessing the budget, a US official said Ottawa's backpedaling on the FIRA would only ''keep things from getting worse'' between the US and Canada, and that Ottawa's nationalistic bent will remain a troublesome bilateral irritant.

As in recent years, the Canadian government set a conservative fiscal course aimed at reducing inflation and the large budgetary deficit.

Emphasizing that economic growth ''cannot be sustained if inflation is not sharply diminished,'' Mr. MacEachen said the government would stick with the high interest-rate policy that has pushed mortgage rates to the 19 to 20 percent level.

Even so, Ottawa is predicting that inflation, now 12.5 percent, will drop only slightly to 11.7 percent next year.

Now that Canada's regulated oil prices are scheduled to rise sharply, the federal treasury will receive increasing revenues. This will permit Ottawa to reduce its deficit sharply - to a forecast $8.82 billion in 1982-83 from an expected $11.172 billion during the current fiscal year.

But unemployment, which has reached a near-record high of 8.3 percent, is an economic message containing little to stimulate the economy.

The Trudeau government was severely criticized for this. ''The budget as a whole reflects a complete ignorance of, or refusal to deal with, the economic reality that is Canada today,'' said Eric Kierans, an economics professor at McGill University and a former Liberal cabinet minister.

MacEachen's policy announcement also included a ''major overhaul'' of income tax systems, designed to raise an additional $1.764 billion in taxes from corporations and individuals by closing various tax loopholes.

And there were limited financial assistance measures in the budget for homeowners and small-business men, whose reaction to skyrocketing mortgage and interest payments has mushroomed recently into something approaching a middle-class revolt here.

MacEachen forecast the Canadian economy would record real growth of 3.5 percent this year, up from zero growth in 1980. In the 1981-87 period, real growth will average 2.5 percent a year, he said.

Exhibits are not large but easy to enjoy in this intimate setting. They range in variety from figure paintings to drawings and a fine collection of landscapes , all by members (past and present) of the academy. Founded by Samuel F. B. Morse, the academy has counted among its members many of America's best artists, among them Homer, Sargent, Audubon, Saint-Gaudens, Wyeth, Bellows, Marsh, as well as contemporary artists. A school of art and an important library of art are part of the academy (Tuesday-Sunday, 12-5; 369-4880.)

Another change of mood is to be found at the Asia Society's new headquarters at 725 Park Avenue at 70th Street. The soft sandstone colors of this new building and the velvet walls of the Rockefeller Gallery are perfect for a tranquil hour spent among these ancient Oriental bronzes, porcelain and jade bowls, and silk scrolls. This gallery was deliberately made small; it will take two years for the entire collection to be shown.

A graceful terrace leads off the second floor, with polished red granite walls and green plants, some of them Oriental (not completely landscaped yet). The Starr gallery, one flight down from the lobby, shows visiting art collections. The society offers a wide variety of meetings for corporate and diplomatic organizations, and lectures, films, music, and dance for the public (Tuesday-Saturday 10-5; Thursday 10-8:30; Sunday 12-5; 288-6400.)

Step back into the Middle Ages by visiting the Cloisters, a subway ride uptown to Fort Tryon Park overlooking the Hudson River. Here in a structure similar to medieval monasteries, are five different cloisters, a Romanesque chapel, a 12th-century Spanish apse, and many European art objects from the 10th to the 15th century. Illuminated manuscripts; the Unicorn and the Nine Heroes tapestry groups; stained glass windows; polychromed statues; carved, wood-paneled rooms complement Gothic and Romanesque works of ivory, enamel, and silver-gilt.

Not as gloomy as Cluny, these somber stone halls can be very charming, especially when decorated with garlands or flowers of the season. Concerts of medieval music take place in the cloisters, with costumed performers playing on antique instruments (Tuesday-Saturday 10-4:45; Sunday 1-4:45; 923-3700.) Take Madison Avenue Bus No. 4 to Fort Tryon Park-Cloisters (1 hour); or take the ''A'' train (IND) to 190th Street-Overlook Terrace. Exit by elevator and connect with No. 4 bus.

There are 115 museums, historic houses, gardens, zoos, and libraries in New York City, and each one offers something special. There is a major collection of Tibetan Art on Staten Island at the Jacques Marchais Center. The Brooklyn Museum has an outstanding collection of Egyptian art. The Bowne House in Queens is one of the oldest houses in the city, where once George Washington visited. It has 16th- and 17th-century furnishings and household articles. A Greek Revival mansion and furnishings may be seen at Pelham Bay in the Bronx, the Bartow-Pell Mansion.

New York City has a Jazz Museum, the Police Academy Museum (with a gun in a violin case), a Ukrainian Museum with folk art and pysanky (Easter eggs), as well as museums of dolls, stamps, locks, and Bibles. There are ethnic museums like El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of the American Indian, the Jewish Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the China House, the Japan House, and a museum of immigration at the Statue of Liberty.

There are museums of photography, firefighting, broadcasting, the printed word, sports and crafts. There is a Museum of the City of New York. There are museums of history, museum-like collections in libraries, and libraries in museums. The choices are bewildering but the rewards are many. For further information and a complete list of all New York City museums, write to the New York City Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, N. Y. 10019, or call 397-8200.

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