New supervisor for commodity trading corporations in Switzerland?


Last week, the Berne Declaration played a little prank on the agency that supervises the Swiss finance sector, FINMA. The Swiss NGO has long been campaigning for a stronger regulation of Switzerland’s commodity market – which is actually a misleading term, as no barrel of Brent crude probably ever touches Swiss soil. Companies have only set up their headquarters in the alpine republic, predominantly in the city of Geneva, to cut taxes.

Berne Declaration’s spin doctor, Oliver Classen, even won a journalism price for an extensive book about commodity trading. The idea of a “ROHMA” is the NGO’s latest coup. They pirated the FINMA logo and photoshopped it into one of a similar, fictionary institution that supervises the commodity market. Here are five pieces that shed light on the issue.

First, here is the proposition of the Berne Declaration: Swiss Commodity Market Supervisory Authority ROHMA to counter the “resource curse” and lessen Switzerland’s reputational risks. The NGO argues that there is a trend towards more transparency in this sector, in which Switzerland does not take part. By harbouring some of the world’s biggest trading companies (Vitol, Glencore , Trafigura) the country would contribute to the resource course and exploitation of developing countries.

All this is a relatiely new development, as the German weekly Der Spiegel points out. In The Attraction of Tax Breaks: Switzerland Grows into Global Commodities Hub, the paper describes how “every third barrel of crude oil sold anywhere in the world” passes through the books of a commodity trading corporation in Switzerland.

Swiss Journalist Daniel Ammann wrote a biography about Marc Rich, “who is considered the most secretive, the most powerful and the most infamous oil trader”. His story How I Met the Biggest Devil describes how he first met the lord of oil.

Tina Rosenberg of the New York Times describes the resource curse and how different countries cope with them. “How do countries have a way out of the resource curse?”, she asks in her article Avoiding the Curse of the Oil Rich Nations.

At last, have a look at Ivan Glasenberg, the current CEO of Glencore. The Daily Maverick from Zambia catches his life story quite nicely in Ivan Glasenberg, obscure billionaire no more  and shows all the absurdities involed in commodity trading.

Bonus (as it’s a movie, not a written story): How Ivan Glasenberg set up camp in Rüschlikon and brought the small village additional tax revenue of 360 million Swiss Francs overnight, including some insights into Swiss Direct Democracy and the resource extraction of Glencore in Zambia.

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