EU seeks code of conduct for sovereign funds

It fears foreign governments will use their investments to further political goals.

The European Commission said Monday it will this week set out a code to govern sovereign wealth funds because it cannot allow foreign governments to use their investments to further political goals. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said there were "real concerns" about some foreign state-run funds, without naming any countries. "We cannot allow non-European funds to be run in an opaque manner or used as an implement of geopolitical strategy," Barroso said. Asian countries such as China are increasingly using the funds to invest portions of their growing trade surpluses with Europe and the US, while Middle Eastern countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also use them to further increase recent windfall oil profits. In comments made during his visit to Norway, Barroso said the European Commission would on Wednesday explain how it plans to lay out "a set of principles for transparency, predictability and accountability" for the funds and both donor and recipient nations that will be discussed by EU leaders at a March 13-14 summit. Barroso said the EU would then push the International Monetary Fund to set up a global code of conduct for sovereign wealth funds and their owners by the end of this year. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is also coming up with recommendations for recipient countries. The EU executive said it would not introduce laws to regulate sovereign wealth funds unless efforts to create a worldwide voluntary code fail. In Beijing, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said he has met with the chairman of China's $200 billion sovereign wealth fund, Lou Jiwei, and pressed for more information about the fund along with assurances its foreign investments will be commercially motivated and free from politics. European businesses complain that they face many hurdles to building up stakes in Chinese companies. "We don't want to close our markets to Chinese investment, but we have to be reassured that it is commercially motivated," Mandelson told the BBC. "What I've said to him is two things: First of all, we need greater transparency, we need clear principles of governance being operated by these sovereign funds, but we also need reciprocity." The EU Commission president insisted that the funds - which he estimated at $2.5 trillion and growing - offered opportunities and are helping stabilize financial markets after the recent subprime crisis rocked banks who saw their potential debts soar. Three major US-based investment banks already turned to sovereign wealth funds for massive cash injections last year. Morgan Stanley won $5b. from China Investment Corp., while Bear Stearns Cos. agreed to a $1b. cross-investment from China's Citic Securities Co. and Citigroup Inc. turned to Abu Dhabi's fund for $7.5b.