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Another major criticism, according to the U.N., is that the funds, with the exception of Norway and Canada, lack transparency.

“Despite their potentially strong impact on the market, SWFs have little accountability to regulators, shareholders or voters, and there are limited data on their investment strategies, portfolio composition and the average annual returns on assets,” the report said.

Richard Samans, managing director at the World Economic Forum, urged the funds to “take on good governance and transparency standards” to help alleviate such concerns.

“Higher governance standards are the prerequisite for SWFs to become a permanent force in financial services,” said a report by the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

The U.N. report said clear procedures and government guidelines “identifying which industries are regarded as strategically important, should be established to make the investment environment more predictable.”

Trying to alleviate such fears, the IMF and several SWFs have crafted a preliminary agreement on a set of voluntary “generally accepted principles and practices.” The guidelines are slated to be presented this month to an IMF policy-setting committee and to be reviewed by the agency’s 185 member countries.

The best practice norms aim to ensure greater transparency, accountability and predictability in the operation of the funds and to prevent governments from resorting to protectionist barriers.

“The proposed guidelines are not sufficient, but it’s a first step,” said Ms. Miroux, the lead author of the U.N. report. “The optimal situation is to have mandatory guidelines.”

The Norwegian Fund is regarded as the “gold standard” for good governance, accountability and transparency standards. It publishes reports on performance, risks and costs on a quarterly basis, and an annual listing of all investments. It also reports regularly on investment strategy and ethical guidelines.

• Patrice Hill reported from Washington.