* Government says motion goes beyond U.S., EU measures
* Decision comes despite entreaty from Brussels
* Swiss trading houses face mounting scrutiny
By Emma Farge
GENEVA, Dec 3 The Swiss cabinet on Monday
rejected a motion that would force mining companies and private
commodity trading houses to declare payments made to
The decision puts the traditionally neutral country at odds
with the United States and the European Union, both of which
are pursuing tough new rules for oil, gas and mining companies
aimed at reducing corruption.
The Swiss government said it dismissed the motion, backed by
a group of 30 mostly left-wing politicians, because it went
beyond measures passed by other Western countries by including
the activities of private traders such as Vitol and Gunvor.
Geneva alone is responsible for over a third of daily crude
oil volumes and about 35 percent of grains.
"The cabinet believes that the scope of the European and
U.S. transparency measures is not sufficiently clear and that
commodity trading outside of the country of origin is unlikely
to be included. We therefore reject the motion," the government
said in a statement on Monday.
The cabinet's decision comes despite efforts by Arlene
McCarthy, who led the discussions in Brussels ahead of a
September transparency vote, to persuade Switzerland to follow
In a letter addressed to Swiss President Eveline
Widmer-Schlumpf on Nov. 20 and seen by Reuters, McCarthy said
there was a need for a "level playing field" in the sector and
called Swiss legislation an "essential step towards a global
A Norwegian non-governmental organisation, the Extractive
Industries Transparency Initiative, is also seeking to forge new
disclosure rules for oil traders buying from state oil
companies, although no concrete measures have been agreed.
The cabinet's decision comes as a blow to campaigners and
politicians who have stepped up pressure on Swiss authorities to
increase transparency in this traditionally secretive sector.
Such pressure has prompted the government to launch a
six-month inquiry into the Swiss commodities industry, which
also includes listed companies such as Glencore. The
results are due to be published before the end of the year.
"There is concern that our country attracts more and more
companies looking to bypass rules and exposes itself more to
international criticism," said left-wing politician Hildegard
Fassler-Osterwalder, who originally proposed the transparency
motion in September.
Politician Carlo Sommaruga, who also backed the proposal,
said on Monday that Switzerland had become a "hostage" to
multinational companies such as commodity traders because of
their high contribution to state revenues.
"They pay very low tax and they pose problems for
transparency and the state doesn't dare doing anything as they
are afraid they will leave," he said.
Switzerland has also come under pressure from Brussels to
match EU sanctions against Iran, including an oil embargo.
Switzerland's foreign minister has said the EU measures go
too far towards "regime change."