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.

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.

Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.