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LME must seize the initiative to get mainland China access

Strenuous efforts by Beijing to push homegrown commodity exchanges into the international arena don’t bode well for the likes of the London Metal Exchange (LME), which is struggling to get any meaningful access to the mainland market.

The latest rising star is Tianjin’s Bohai Commodity Exchange, founded in 2009 and a trading venue for 70 products from crude oil to metals and mushroom to apples. It has built an online platform which mainly caters to mainland market participants. Now it is after international investors who want to trade in yuan in a wider variety of products.

In a bid to woo traders, brokers and investors, Bohai brought its travelling roadshow to Hong Kong last week.

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The symbolism of the event, hosted at the Bank of China Hong Kong’s gleaming headquarters in Central, was hard to miss.

More significant for would-be foreign competitors is that the Bohai bourse is the first non-bank organisation on the mainland permitted to conduct cross-border yuan business.

The LME, bought by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing a year ago in an ambitious bid to build a mainland-focused commodity trading centre here, will need yuan-denominated products to succeed – and approval from Beijing to allow mainland firms and investors to trade here to generate liquidity. And it would be a big help if the LME was allowed to open mainland warehouse facilities.

In the past year, however, there has been not a single policy initiative that would further the LME’s mainland ambitions.

But a twin strategy of support to both the exchanges could help Beijing resolve its long-standing complaint that, despite being the world’s largest consumer of many metals and natural resources, it has little say in how global prices are determined.

Bohai only trades spot products, while the LME also trades futures.

The LME has the reputation, liquidity and international market following that the Bohai bourse lacks – a point reinforced during the Hong Kong roadshow that may have attracted around 200 attendants, but the vast majority of them representing places no further afield than Southeast Asia.

Bohai has a long way to go before it can begin to build that worldwide connectivity. The smart move for the LME would be to introduce yuan commodities products here as soon as possible – and give Beijing a reason to rethink its strategy of backing a single champion.