Swiss parliament opens way for more transparency in commodities, mining

by Reuters
Tuesday, 11 June 2013 18:51 GMT

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga leaves after a news conference in Bern December 18, 2012 REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

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GENEVA, June 11 (Reuters) - The Swiss parliament agreed a motion on Tuesday that could result in tougher rules for the mining and commodity trading sectors, reviving a fierce debate over transparency in the $20 billion sector.

The vote in Switzerland's lower house follows the release of a government inquiry in March that stopped short of proposing legally-binding transparency measures for the commodities sector which accounts for nearly 4 percent of GDP.

Since then, politicians and non-governmental organisations have pressed for more stringent rules to match those agreed by the European Union, while lobby groups have defended the government line that voluntary measures are sufficient.

Switzerland is one of the top global hubs for commodity trading, acting as home to giants including Glencore Xstrata and Trafigura and accounting for at least a third of traded oil volumes.

"The cabinet accepts the proposal, as it is formulated, and will now consider transparency rules for the whole sector, meaning for listed and non-listed commodity companies as well as for commodity trading and extractive activities," Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga said in parliament on Tuesday.

The vote, known as a postulat in Switzerland, tasks the country's cabinet with examining the draft law although there is no obligation for the government to adopt it.

Switzerland, keen to avoid being stigmatised as a tax and secrecy haven after U.S. criticism of its banking sector, began the formal study of the commodities sector last year.

"Given the number of companies in the sector with their headquarters in Switzerland and operating from our country in this highly sensitive sector, the question of Switzerland's reputation is at stake," said left-wing politician Carlo Sommaruga in the same debate.

The European Parliament is due to vote through legislation on Wednesday that would make oil, gas, mining and logging firms declare payments to governments as part of an effort to end poverty in resource-rich nations.

The legislation would not apply to Switzerland which is not a member of the European Union.

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