EU transparency rules won't achieve clarity-letter

Mon Oct 24, 2011 1:18pm EDT

* Resource firms object to project-level reporting

* Companies say back transparency, but not red tape

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Oct 24 (Reuters) - EU commissioners are expected on Tuesday to approve draft transparency rules for mining, forestry and energy firms, which resource companies said could impede access to oil, gas and other assets in disputed areas, such as the Caspian.

In a letter to the European Union's financial regulation chief, a group of companies objected to a proposal to include reporting not just at government level, but on a project-by-project basis.

They said that was commercially and politically sensitive, would not add transparency and the rules failed to define what constituted a project.

It was signed by Anglo American , BHP Billiton , Rio Tinto , Xstrata , BG Group, BP , Repsol , Shell , Total .

"One example is oil or gas fields which cross borders, where governments are understandably careful to safeguard the confidentiality of the terms they offer to investors," said a copy of the letter seen by Reuters.

"Further damage to competitiveness will be caused by the additional cost and administrative burden of project-level reporting," it said.

Disputed areas key to European energy supplies include the Caspian, which the European Union has looked to as a means of reducing dependence on Russian gas, and the eastern Mediterranean, which has pitted Cyprus, scheduled to hold the EU presidency next year, against Turkey.

LONG LEGAL PROCESS

On Tuesday in Strasbourg, the College of 27 EU Commissioners is expected to formally adopt proposals for a review of the Accounting and Transparency Directive, an EU source said. They must then be approved by EU governments and lawmakers before becoming legislation.

The proposed directives would make it legally binding to disclose information, complementing the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), announced by former British prime minister Tony Blair in 2002. It establishes voluntary guidelines for reporting company payments to governments.

Many resource companies -- including signatories of the letter -- have backed the EITI.

But analysts said the reporting of projects included in the new EU proposals replicated a part of the U.S. Dodd-Frank package of legislation that the U.S. regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) was struggling to enforce.

"The SEC struggles to implement project-level reporting and keeps delaying its proposals," said Daniel Brinkwerth of consultants GPlus Europe.

EU commissioner in charge of financial regulation Michel Barnier last week launched the bloc's new package of regulations for financial instruments.

He said he could not imagine they would be less stringent than the U.S. regulations and he was keen to avoid regulatory arbitrage -- whereby companies exploit differences between different legal regimes.

As holder of the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 leading economies, France has made toughening regulation a priority, incurring stiff opposition from nations such as Britain, anxious not to lose business from its City financial district.

"Understandably, Commissioner Barnier and the French President want to do well in the international beauty contest around the upcoming G20 summit," said Brinkwerth.

"But copying the one clause of Dodd-Frank which works the least reveals a ready-fire-aim approach to policies at a time when the European economy is already scrambling."

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