EU deal on curbing food speculation comes none too soon

Published: 15 January 2014

Today the European Parliament and the Greek EU Presidency sealed a deal on the reform of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID), which sets new regulation for financial markets.

The deal includes new rules to limit speculation on financial products linked to what we eat. These so-called ‘commodity derivatives’ are derived from commodities, including agricultural commodities such as wheat, corn, soybean or sugar.

In a reaction to today’s deal, Marc Olivier Herman, Oxfam's EU policy advisor, said:

“Today’s decision marks a good start in tackling ‘gambling’ on food prices which are a matter of life and death to millions in the developing world. The agreement introduces limits on speculating in spite of attempts by the UK and other governments to block any meaningful reform.”

“The Parliament has succeeded in making significant improvements to the legislation. Limits to the bets that speculators can make will apply to contracts traded ‘over the counter’ and throughout the lifetime of the contracts. This is good news for millions in the developing world, who can spend up to 75 per cent of their income on food, as well as producers who rely on stable food prices. It is also important for people across Europe struggling to cope with high and volatile prices.”

“The deal is far from perfect. Unjustified exemptions were granted to powerful lobbies and limits will be set nationally, rather than at the European level. There is a real risk, particularly in the UK, of ineffective sky high limits triggering a regulatory race to the bottom between European countries.”

“The European Commission and the European Securities and Management Authority must now take a lead in ensuring that position limits are implemented effectively.”

Notes to editors

  • Deregulated and secretive agricultural commodity derivatives markets have attracted huge   sums of speculative money, and there is growing evidence that they deliver distorted and unpredictable food prices. There is extensive debate about the harmful effects of excessive speculation. While there is no unanimous consensus on the effects, a long list of studies and analyst reports have found various indications for price distorting and inflating impacts of commodity speculation. 
  • Position limits cap the number of contracts in a particular commodity that can be held by a trader or group of traders, preventing concentration by the individual or group concerned. This ensures speculators do not exert an excessive influence on prices. The text adopted today imposes position limits only on net positions rather than on the amount of contracts and will not apply to all contracts.
  • Position limits will apply to all commodity derivatives except to wholesale electricity and gas contracts. The oil and coal industry succeeded in securing an exemption from clearing obligations. Position limits will only to “economically equivalent” over the counter (OTC) contracts.
  • The political agreement reached today between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU will have to be formally approved by both institutions in the coming months. This is expected to happen before the upcoming elections of the European Parliament in May 2014.
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