Africa Progress Panel calls for more Swiss commodity sector transparency

International advocacy group Africa Progress Panel has called for Switzerland to demand greater transparency from its commodity trading sector.

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In a statement released on Monday March 31 before a sector-wide meeting in Geneva, the group – led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan – said that Switzerland could play a crucial role in curbing corruption and mismanagement of Africa’s natural resources by accelerating regulation of its commodities trading sector.

Switzerland is home to some of the largest commodity trading houses in the world, including Trafigura, Glencore Xstrata, Duferco and Mercuria. Other major global traders, including Cargill and Gunvor, also run businesses in the country.

Around two-thirds of all trade in minerals and metals takes place in the country.

The Swiss government acknowledged the importance of reputational issues related to commodity trading in a report published in March, the panel said, but highlighted the “significant gaps” that remain to be bridged before Switzerland can reach global transparency standards.

“By failing to enforce disclosure and to effectively regulate its sizeable commodities trading sector, Switzerland is unwittingly playing a role in sustaining corruption and mismanagement,” Africa Progress Panel member Peter Eigen said.

“The global commodity trade is one of the world’s largest industries, procuring from some of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries,” Eigen, who is also founder of Transparency International, added.

“Tax avoidance and evasion, unfair contracts, and secrecy around company ownership and revenue flows, remain major concerns that prevent African and other citizens from benefiting from the resources beneath their feet,” he said.

The natural resource sector is usually the main source of illicit financial flows in Africa’s resource-rich countries, the panel said.

A spokesman for Finma, the supervisory authority of Switzerland’s financial market, told Steel First that the body was not responsible for regulating the commodity sector.

“There are talks about regulation but that is a political question,” the spokesman said. “I don’t think Finma is implicated in this.”

The panel’s call for greater scrutiny of Switzerland’s commodity trading sector comes just under a year after the 2013 meeting of the G8 group of nations in Ireland which catapulted transparency to the top of the international agenda.

Africa boasts vast mineral wealth, including some of the world’s largest reserves of aluminium and steelmaking raw materials.

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