Commodity trading and illicit financial flows


Commodity trading has come under increasing scrutiny as a conduit for illicit financial flows out of resource-rich developing countries, through trade mispricing and abusive transfer pricing. Assessing whether, and to what extent, commodity trading is subject to trade mispricing is of the essence to measure this phenomenon and evaluate the impact of corrective policies. This paper focuses on the world’s largest commodity trading hub, Switzerland. We will examine existing methodological approaches for estimating trade mispricing associated with commodity trade and analyse the data available in the case of Switzerland. Since commodity trading primarily occurs in transit trade, meaning that the merchandise does not physically enter Switzerland, it is it difficult to trace transactions by Swiss-based trading companies in trade statistics. Additionally, identifying mispricing practices raises several methodological issues. Previous studies have hinted at substantial illicit financial flows from developing countries to Switzerland related to commodity trade, with conservative estimates ranging from $8.5 billion to $15 billion a year. We conclude that the reliability of such estimates is weak and that deeper insight into the actual operations of the commodity trading business is required in order to improve them.