Blog: Energy Charter Treaty leak and UK-Australia deal point to lack of transparency in trade policy – Open Democracy

The events surrounding the Queen’s death have in the past couple of weeks diverted attention away from issues that might, in more normal times, have attracted more media coverage. The killing of an unarmed 24-year-old Black man in London by the police. Floods that continue to devastate Pakistan. The UK government’s plans to grant up to 130 new oil and gas licences in the North Sea and resume fracking, while the planet swiftly approaches disastrous climate tipping points.  

There’s much more that has been almost entirely overlooked – including highly significant developments on trade. Trade policy impacts so many aspects of our lives, and yet often flies under the radar.

In the short time since Liz Truss was declared prime minister, the Department for International Trade’s performance in dealing with Freedom of Information requests has been deemed to be so poor that it has been issued with an enforcement order from the Information Commissioner’s Office, and a new trade deal with Australia that sacrifices UK food and farming standards being pushed through Parliament without debate.

But perhaps the most shocking recent development has been the leak of secretly negotiated amendments to a trade treaty that, if approved by the government, will lock the UK into possible multi-million-pound pay-outs to fossil fuel corporations over the next decade.  

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The leaked text confirms the fears that we at War on Want, a London-based anti-poverty charity, have about the climate-wrecking Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). The ECT is an international agreement, first signed in 1994 and with more than 50 member states, which allows corporations to use investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) to sue countries over policies that affect their profits.

This means fossil fuel firms can sue over policies designed to limit climate change – as was the case in the Netherlands, when German energy giant RWE demanded the Dutch government pay €1.4bn in compensation over a plan to phase out coal. Elsewhere, UK corporation Ascent Resources is currently suing the government of Slovenia for more than €500m over the country’s fracking ban. 

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