Switzerland in the time of transparency in the raw materials sector

Switzerland in the time of transparency in the raw materials sector

For the first time, the members of the EITI (the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) Board have held their meeting in Switzerland. SWISSAID took the opportunity to actively promote this issue. And it was involved in the side event organised on 20 October by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).​

On 20 October, several dozen experts from the raw materials sector gathered at SECO's invitation in the Bernese Alps for a conference entitled “Greater transparency in the trading of raw materials”.  Just like at EITI, a multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together representatives from business, government and the general public, a similar group of people did a great deal in the way of exchanging views and speaking out to express their points of view. Meanwhile, Switzerland, which has in the space of just a few years become a true hub for trading raw materials, is having difficulty considering imposing binding standards to require greater transparency in this sector.

After Trafigura, who’s next?

Lorenz Kummer from SWISSAID represented NGOs on a panel of experts. He said he was very much looking forward to reading the first EITI report to be published in December 2015 by Geneva firm Trafigura, a company trading in oil and metals, and the first company in Switzerland to have joined EITI. However, this was tempered by Andrew Gowers, the representative from Trafigura, who said “Don’t get too excited by what we are going to publish,” referring to information he is already calling “limited”. He thinks that, like Trafigura, other trading companies will, in turn, end up joining the transparency initiative.

This is also the wish expressed in Bern by Clare Short, Chair of the international EITI Board, who expects “other traders to join us soon”, although for the time being, as Stéphane Graber, Secretary General of the Swiss Trading and Shipping Association (STSA), states “With the exception of Trafigura, no member of our association which protects the interests of the industry has yet decided to join EITI”.

Allaying the fears of the Swiss administration

From the point of view of the Swiss government, represented by Michael Manz from the State Secretariat for International Financial Matters (SIF) and Monica Rubiolo (SECO), there are ongoing fears that a requirement for greater transparency in this sector would have a detrimental effect on firms’ competitiveness, resulting in the risk of them leaving Switzerland. However, Lorenz Kummer from SWISSAID dismisses this argument: “I don’t for one moment think that businesses would leave Switzerland overnight,” he said. “Instead, it would be a positive step for Switzerland to live up to its responsibilities in terms of transparency, to limit its reputational risk, and to ensure it is no longer lagging behind a movement that is gaining ground.”

Jonas Moberg, who manages the EITI International Secretariat, echoed this sentiment, as did Alexandra Gillies, from the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI): “We are living in interesting times,” she said, “An increasing number of countries are committing to transparency, and the Swiss government has itself declared on several occasions that it acknowledges its responsibility with regard to transparency in raw materials trading.” Together with SWISSAID and other NGOs, Alexandra Gillies is, therefore, expecting good news, as she believes that Switzerland has a key role to play at the forefront of this movement that is gaining ground worldwide.