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So now that Glenstrata is a go, should we be concerned?

The good news is that when it comes to transparency, bigger is (normally) better.

New Statesman
Photograph: Getty Images

Vows have been declared and permission granted; the ceremony is set for the marriage of the two largest names in commodities – Glencore and Xstrata. The $76 bn merger to create Glenstrata is the largest in the industry’s history and yesterday was finally approved by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce (Mofcom).

Previously, I wrote of how governments were fretting at the deal. Since it was first announced in February 2012, many have vented their disapproval of a marriage between the two largest commodities companies in the world. The deal was held up by Qatar, South Africa, the EU and China. At each hurdle, Glencore – the one wearing the trousers in this relationship – was forced to pay a little bit extra, or sell a few more businesses.

Yesterday’s announcement was no different: Glencore was forced to sell Las Bambas, a big copper project in Peru. The decision was inevitable from a Chinese point of view: Glenstrata would control over 10 percent of the world’s copper concentrate supplies and China is the world’s largest copper consumer.

So now that Glenstrata is a go, should we be concerned? Will Glenstrata be the Ayatollah or the Mandela of the world’s commodities? The word monopoly is too easily deployed, but when one company dominates so many essentials – thermal coal, ferrochrome, zinc and copper to name a few – there is reason for concern.

The world of commodities is traditionally discreet. An earlier blog I wrote on Marc Rich, Glencore’s founder, shows just how suspect it can be. Price fixing, sanctions busting, illicit trading are all buzz words surrounding the industry, let alone the environmental and human rights issues that follow mining companies into the darkest corners of the earth.

But there is good news. When it comes to transparency, bigger is (normally) better. The larger the company and the more stock exchanges on which it is required to report to generally means that it is forced to clear up its act. Just look at ENRC’s move out of the Congo in December, when it was accused of entering a dodgy partnership with the suspicious mining billionaire Dan Gertler.

More good news for transparency came the same day that the Glencore-Xstrata deal was approved. Greg Page, chief executive of the trading house Cargill, advised the commodities industry to embrace greater transparency: “The industry, as a whole, must accept its responsibility to behave appropriately, properly, ethically,” Page said. “There are lessons to be learnt from the banking sector, and the forced legislation it prompted and is continuing to prompt.”

The marriage of Glencore and Xstrata is now scheduled for 2nd May. Let’s hope the honeymoon precedents a new era of transparency.