Obama hints at gas exports with push for EU free trade
Points to the Ukraine and a need to reinforce energy security in Europe.
Several EU nations rely heavily on Russia for gas supplies, something they regret now that they are in a diplomatic standoff over Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The concern is that Russia could limit gas supplies in retaliation against economic sanctions imposed by Europe and the US.
“The situation in Ukraine proves the need to reinforce energy security in Europe,” Obama and EU leaders said in a joint statement. “We are considering new collaborative efforts to achieve this goal.”
During a visit to EU headquarters in Brussels, Obama said the US would be able to export liquefied natural gas more easily to Europe if a trade deal were in place.
However, he left no doubt that exports from the US won’t be a silver bullet, insisting “Europe collectively has to examine its energy policies.”
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU’s executive arm, the Commission, said the two sides had agreed to hold a meeting on energy co-operation.
The meeting will be chaired by US Secretary of State John Kerry and his EU counterpart Catherine Ashton.
The US has in recent years experienced a boom in gas production thanks to shale gas extraction, but remains reluctant on authorizing export licenses.
Experts say that exporting more gas might lead to slightly higher gas prices in the US, but becoming a major exporter would also give the US new geopolitical clout.
The combined trade between the US and the EU accounts for almost half of the world’s gross domestic product and a third of world trade.
Officials hope to conclude the free trade negotiations by the end of the year, but that timetable might prove optimistic because many stumbling blocks remain.
Congress might scupper Obama’s push for a trade deal. Many of his fellow Democrats oppose granting the administration a broad negotiating mandate. That so-called fast track negotiating authority speeds up congressional action on trade deals by barring amendments.
Officials say a timely conclusion of a trade deal without a fast-track mandate is almost impossible.