Plans are currently underway to create a new commodities exchange in Hong Kong, potentially giving China a larger role in setting the world’s petroleum prices and adding to the reputation it craves as a global, economic powerhouse.

Investor interest in commodities has surged lately, especially as crude oil contracts flirt with prices around $130 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In order for the Hong Kong market to be successful, it must receive support from larger commodities markets, and the new exchange must take advantage of growing after-hours electronic trading services.

Hong Kong’s financial secretary John Tsang said he was “delighted to see the creation of HKMEx,” calling it “a huge opportunity for Hong Kong to develop a commodities-futures market.”

Merrill Lynch & Co, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc, and commodities-supply-chain manager Noble Group Ltd. are reportedly behind the idea of the new exchange, although The Wall Street Journal reports that there are no official commitments or statements from any of these firms yet.

Rising fuel costs have obviously been on the mind of most Americans recently, prompting some investors to find out whether or not their mutual funds have ties to oil companies or not. While some might be happy to find out they do, this was not the case for presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

In the beginning of June, Sen. Obama decided to divest $120,000 that he had in the Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund. This decision came shortly after a reporter questioned him about the fund’s ties to three oil companies doing business in Iran: Total, BP PLC, and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

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