Obama highlights need for US-EU energy cooperation

U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the media at the European Council building in Brussels, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama is on a one day trip to Belgium to meet EU officials and visit the WWI Flanders Field Cemetery. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses the media at the European Council building in Brussels, on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama is on a one day trip to Belgium to meet EU officials and visit the WWI Flanders Field Cemetery. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)

BRUSSELS (AP) – U.S. President Barack Obama said Wednesday that energy cooperation would be a crucial part of a free trade deal with the EU that, if reached, would allow the 28-nation bloc to become less dependent on Russia.

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 U.S.

“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 U.S. 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 U.S. won’t be a silver bullet, insisting “Europe collectively has to examine it 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 cooperation “already next week.”

The meeting will be chaired by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his EU counterpart Catherine Ashton, he added.

The U.S. has in recent years experienced a boom in gas production thanks to shale gas extraction. It remains reluctant on authorizing export licenses, however.

Experts say that exporting more gas might lead to slightly higher gas prices in the U.S., but becoming a major exporter would also give the U.S. new geopolitical clout.

The combined trade between the United States 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.

Obama’s push for a trade deal, however, might be scuppered by Congress, where 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.

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