Newly released documents show that, in back-room talks, European officials assured ExxonMobil that the pending US-EU trade agreement would force the removal of regulatory "obstacles" worldwide, thus opening up even more countries to exploitation by the fossil fuel empire.
Heavily redacted documents pertaining to an October 2013 meeting, obtained by the Guardian and reported on Tuesday, reveal that then-trade commissioner Karel de Gucht met with two officials from ExxonMobil's EU and U.S. divisions to address the benefits of the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
As the Guardian notes, the meeting was held at a time when countries in South America and Africa were "tightening regulations on fossil fuel companies for the first time in a decade, despite ExxonMobil’s ambitions to open up shale gas fracking wells in North Africa, Asia and South America."
A briefing paper summarizing the key points of meeting reportedly stated: "TTIP is perhaps more relevant as setting a precedent vis-a-vis third countries than governing trade and investment bilaterally...We think that this third country element is in the interest of the energy sector, and especially globally active companies like Shell or Exxonmobil. After all, companies like Shell or Exxonmobil face the same trade barriers when doing business in Africa, in Russia or in South America."
Or, as Guardian reporter Arthur Neslen phrased it, the commission effectively told the oil giant "that once the trade deal was in place, other countries outside it would be progressively forced to adopt the same measures, making it easier for companies such as ExxonMobil to expand into their markets."
The revelations underscore criticisms that trade agreements like the TTIP constitute a "race to the bottom" for environmental, public health, and labor standards. They come a day after Greenpeace activists set up a blockade outside of negotiations in Brussels to call attention to the environmental threats posed by the corporate-friendly deal.
"What the Commission calls barriers to trade are in fact the safeguards that keep toxic pesticides out of our food or dangerous pollutants out of the air we breathe," said Greenpeace TTIP campaigner Susan Jehoram Cohen on Monday. The negotiators, Cohen added, "want to weaken these safeguards to maximize corporate profits, whatever the costs for society and the environment."
Indeed, Tuesday's revelations are not the first to expose the collusion between European trade negotiators and the fossil fuel industry. Other documents released in November showed officials going so far as to ask industry leaders for "concrete input" on the text for the TTIP's energy chapter.
After the latest report, Nick Dearden, director of the UK-based social justice group Global Justice Now expressed resounding dismay at the TTIP text and negotiation process, tweeting: "Can this deal get any worse?"