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EU-US TTIP trade negotiations shrouded in secrecy

John Deede | Shale Plays Media Google+

Diplomats from the European Union and the United States have been holding trade negotiations behind closed doors in hopes of enacting the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Since the details of the agreement are not available to the public, there has been much speculation regarding the potential outcomes of the partnership. The contents of the negotiations will not be known for quite some time, either: the outcomes are not to be disclosed until five years has passed after the agreement is enacted. Even if no agreement is reached, the public will not learn about it until five years beyond the last round of negotiations.

Topics of international trade agreements can vary greatly. Countries need to make agreements on the proper way to package certain items, such as alcohol or tobacco, where there are discrepancies in labeling procedures. An issue concerning many Europeans is the possible importation of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, which are banned in the EU. Most negotiations, however, are not this secret.

The most important issue of these agreements may be regarding US exports of oil and gas. The Huffington Post obtained a leaked copy of a document outlining regulations about the trading of energy goods, including oil and gas. This document, which indicates a negotiation over US energy exports, has only fueled speculation about the trade agreement.

Related: The oil export ban calamity

The crisis in Ukraine has the EU wringing their hands over their trusted supply of cheap natural gas from Russia. If unrest in Ukraine intensifies, gas pipelines crisscrossing the country may be sabotaged, jeopardizing the flow of gas to Europe. On June 17, one day after Russia’s gas conglomerate Gazprom announced that it was cutting Ukraine’s supply, an explosion rocked a pipeline in the heart of the country. Government officials were quick to dismiss the attacks, saying that the flow of gas to Europe was not interrupted. There is much speculation that the explosion was intentional and that there could likely be more incidents in the not-so-distant future.

Critics of removing export barriers contend that saving Europe from Russia’s natural gas stranglehold would do little to benefit the US. If Europe’s natural gas prices skyrocketed and demand for US supply had a substantial increase, domestic natural gas bills would increase due to lack of supply. Beyond increasing the United States’ political clout in the region and lining the pockets of multinational oil and gas companies, the lowering of trade barriers would do little to help the average American.

With an increase in demand for natural gas, rigs would be scrambling to the shale fields to capitalize on suddenly-profitable natural gas. The idea of promoting shale production is drawing criticism from environmental groups, whom would rather see Europe move towards cleaner energy such as wind and solar. Natural gas is seen as a clean-burning fuel, but when one factors in the energy required to extract the gas, refine it, compress it, and ship it oversees, the benefit to the environment quickly evaporates.

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