U.S. sticks to global transparency initiative after Congress repeal

WASHINGTON/OSLO (Reuters) - The United States remains committed to the “principles and goals” of the global transparency initiative to fight corruption in managing revenues from oil, gas and mineral extraction, it said on Wednesday.

There were doubts about U.S. participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) after Congress killed the “resource extraction rule” that required companies such as Exxon Mobil to disclose taxes and other fees paid to foreign governments, such as Russia.

The EITI, which was founded in 2003, and which the U.S. joined in 2014, sets a global standard for governments to disclose their revenues from oil, gas, and mining assets, and for companies to report payments made to obtain access to publicly owned resources, as well as other donations.

“The (U.S. Interior) Department remains committed to the principles and goals of EITI including transparency and good governance of the extractive sectors...,” Heather Swift, a spokesperson for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, said in an email to Reuters.

Industry sources familiar with EITI implementation said the United States was already pulling out in all but name, but could formally remain a member until its progress assessment scheduled to start in April 2018.

Azerbaijan left the group in March after the EITI board, chaired by Sweden’s former prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, suspended its membership over concerns about limits on civic freedoms.

The EITI initiative was primarily aimed at developing nations and most of its members are in Africa. But Britain, Germany and Norway also joined, while France and Australia have also expressed interest.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and former Republican Senator Richard Lugar, authors of legislation encouraging U.S. participation in EITI, said withdrawal would harm national interests.

“Such a retreat is a retreat from our values, which give America its strength and its moral leadership in the world,” they said in a joint statement.

Jonas Moberg, head of EITI’s secretariat in Oslo, said the United States continued to be the part of the global initiative, but if it decided to leave, it wouldn’t be the end of the initiative, now being implemented in 51 countries.

“Should the administration of President Trump decide to bring an end to EITI implementation, we are not concerned that it would be a decision followed elsewhere,” he added in an email to Reuters.

The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), which represents 23 leading mining companies, has said companies that work in EITI member countries will still have to abide by strict disclosure rules, despite the recent U.S. legal changes.

Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in London and Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels; Editing by Ruth Pitchford