U.S. and EU negotiators recently began a new round of negotiations on the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement. Because the talks are happening behind closed doors, the public is left largely in the dark about the nature of the discussions over a deal also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
So what, exactly, do we know?
Officially, not much. But an EU negotiation position “on raw materials and energy” was leaked to the Huffington Post in May. The text amounts to a wish list of demands from Big Oil and Gas that would lock in any of their investments in fossil fuels in general, and shale gas and fracking in particular.
Article C of the document states that no restrictions should apply to the “exports of energy goods” between the transatlantic trade partners. Any request, for example, for an export license to ship natural gas from the United States to the EU would be approved “automatically.”
That means no questions asked, even if this arrangement could lead to environmental damage from widespread use of fracking, increased gas prices for U.S. consumers, increased import dependency, and other problems.
This trade deal would lock in our mutual dependence on unsustainable fossil fuels at the expense of our climate. While it would bode well for the quarterly profits oil and gas companies earn, this arrangement wouldn’t serve the public interest.
Largely unregulated energy commerce between the United States and EU would also be a frontal assault on the possibility for governments to impose a “public service obligation.” It could bar mandates for utility companies to deliver natural gas at certain prices to consumers, for example.
Any such public service obligation should be “clearly defined and of limited duration” and no “more burdensome than necessary,” according to the leaked draft. With such vague wording, lawyers will have a field day attacking any price regulation in the energy sector.
This leak shows that civil society groups on both sides of the Atlantic have been right all along to be suspicious about what’s being negotiated behind closed doors. The expression “No news is good news” clearly doesn’t apply to the transatlantic free trade deal. The more we learn about the ongoing negotiations, the less we like it.