IOSCO comes to Hong Kong

Hong Kong will play host to next year''s IOSCO conference, one of the more important events you''ve probably never heard of.

The highlight of the coming year's conference circuit in Hong Kong will undoubtedly be scenes of Korean farmers rioting in Wanchai when the WTO caravanserai rolls into town in December. The WTO meeting will certainly grab the headlines even though preliminary talks all point to an event where nothing will be achieved.

But for those involved in financial services in Asia, a much more important conference will be happening in June 2006. This is the annual conference of IOSCO - the international organization of securities commissions - the annual jamboree of securities regulators from around the world. It is a gathering that can effect many changes.

The event will not be quite as high profile as the WTO conference but it is a vital conference that is looking to address one of the biggest problems facing global markets, namely the vast swathes of excessive and contradictory regulation that strangle the global securities markets.

These regulations have mushroomed in recent years in ways that make it now impossible for international banks to comply with all the rules. Any conference where all the regulators are gathered in one room at the same time is clearly an important forum for the necessary harmonization of these rules.

IOSCO is a loose grouping of 181 securities regulators from 100 countries around the world, who together regulate over 90% of the world's securities transactions. It is a body whose importance appears to be in inverse proportion to its fame.

In the last few years, the organization has undertaken a series of measures to help the world's securities regulators converge their rules in order to help the harmonization of the market. Measures such as the IOSCO Memorandum of Understanding and the IOSCO Objectives and Principles are documents that members have to sign. These show the way forward for the global regulation of the securities industry.

That only 23 of the 181 members have actually signed the documents shows the amount of work that is still left to be done when it comes to attaining the holy grail of regulatory convergence. But the stakes are so high that it is a goal worth supporting.

IOSCO as a body has an emerging markets feel to it and is a kind of self-help group for regulators raging against powerful vested interests at home and abroad. Members are exposed to global best practices from an impartial body. Then any changes that are recommended by IOSCO can be taken back to the home countries where the securities regulators can go through the long and arduous process of getting securities laws changed domestically.

For Hong Kong the annual meeting will be a chance to showcase the city and in particular the new look SFC - with its new Securities and Futures Ordinance - which is organizing the event. It will be a chance for Hong Kong to lead the way when it comes to the convergence of securities regulations.

Early indications suggest that the event will be a knock out. People close to the conference have told FinanceAsia that already there is a jostling for places. Firstly the Taiwanese said that they would be sending a delegation of 200. The Chinese, not to be outdone, said that they would be sending 300. The Koreans then came back and said they would be sending 500. Perhaps finding accommodation will be the biggest challenge of the conference, rather than global regulatory convergence.

The event will be a great opportunity for all the global banks and brokerages to do some concerted lobbying on behalf of their industry with all the world's most powerful regulators gathered in one place at one time. In particular those banks looking to benefit from the ongoing deregulation of Asian - and in particular China's - markets will take a keen interest in the proceedings.