Do we need a new Energy Agreement?

WTO law may apply to trade in energy resources but the way in which the specificities of the sector should be reflected in its application is debated. WTO rules are not fit to properly tackle issues related to the liberalization of trade in energy resources, and that it may be advisable to adopt a separate agreement on energy trade. There have been proposals according to which the adoption of a sectoral agreement may deal with energy issues. Some of these proposals mark a preference for an integrated approach: J. Pauwelyn mentions, for instance, a sort of ‘General Agreement on Trade in Energy’; T. Cottier and his collaborators also opt for a similar ‘Framework Agreement on Energy within WTO law’.Others are limited to the linkages between energy trade and environmental issues – J. Bacchus suggests, for example, a ‘Sustainable Energy Trade Agreement’. All these proposals are based on the general idea that such a sectoral agreement would be the solution to the archetypal problem in the area: the inadequacy of the general framework of the multilateral trading system to address the specificities of the trade in energy resources. The central issue of this chapter deals with the fact that a new energy agreement may cause more problems than positive outcomes. For this reason, the author focuses on the alternatives. The article starts with a description of the international trading regime of energy. The key point is that starting with the current tools we have, a new energy agreement is possible. Starting from the fact that traditional energy resources are limited and exhaustible, the public attention should be focalized in the near future. Environmental issues, clearly connected, need to be considered either. The author concludes that WTO law may sometimes and somehow appear not flexible enough to take into consideration the characteristics of this sector. If a sectoral Energy Agreement is to be designed, its provisions will need to be carefully drafted in order to avoid as many interpretation predicaments as possible. However, the need of consensus on all of these issues will undoubtedly result in somewhat reduced obligations and there is still no guarantee that all possible complications will be resolved in advance. Arguably, such a modification of the existing general framework will be insufficient.