The Commerce Commission is seeking assurances from banks they will not victimise farmers who give evidence in its interest rate swaps investigation.
The commission has asked farmers to provide more detailed information in order to build a complete picture of the controversial sales to the rural sector.
But it is concerned people will not come forward for fear of repercussions to their businesses.
Farmers have expressed worries that providing information or giving evidence against banks in court might leave them in a vulnerable position.
The commission's notes for a meeting with MP Damien O'Connor say the investigation is being given high priority.
The notes reveal the commission has already written to banks advising them of its view that witnesses can provide information without fear of adverse consequences.
It has scheduled meetings with the banks to seek assurances they will abide by that view.
The commission launched its investigation last year after farmer complaints and media stories on the sale of the complex derivative financial instruments, but it now wants more farmers to come forward.
More than $4 billion of interest rate swap loans were sold to farmers between 2004 and 2009 as a protection against interest rates rising. However, when interest rates fell, they found themselves trapped into rising interest costs.
The sale of swaps appeared to mirror those made overseas to businesses in Britain and to local authorities in the United States and Italy - all countries where there has been a national outcry and investigations by regulators.
The commission has been in contact with the UK Financial Conduct Authority to discuss its investigation.
Many farmers claim to have suffered significant financial loss as a result of entering into the interest rate swaps. But many of the complainants claim to have done deals with the banks involved which require them to sign confidentiality agreements and not to talk to the media.
The commission's notes say it has a large team working on the investigation and as at May 7 it had been contacted by 98 people about rural swaps, either with complaints or through a questionnaire it invited people to fill out.
It has issued statutory notices to banks under the Fair Trading Act and received some information, although more was to come once banks had trawled their old IT systems.
The commission is in touch with the Financial Markets Authority and Federated Farmers about the investigation, it said.Author: Stuff.co.nzSource: © Fairfax NZ News