In a survey of the oil, gas, and mining companies covered by Britain’s version of Cardin-Lugar, which requires the companies to report their taxes, royalties, and other payments to the countries where they operate, the government found that the companies “did not report any substantial costs associated with this reporting,” and that “this type of reporting does not disadvantage company business interests, including their relationships with governments.” The government gave strong thumbs up to keeping the regulations in place.
This authoritative review of the real experience of real oil companies, issued last week, is a direct rebuke to the fanciful claims of alleged harm by the American oil industry and the Trump administration. Britain’s extractives reporting requirement, which came into force in 2014, is modeled on Cardin-Lugar, which was passed in 2010. Enforcement was stymied by the courts until Congress, under heavy pressure from the powerful American Petroleum Institute (API), struck the implementing SEC regulation last year.
API and many of its member companies, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, have waged a relentless campaign against Cardin-Lugar, enacted as Sec. 1504 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. API claimed in lobbying documents that the regulation would force U.S. companies “to reveal highly confidential sensitive information thereby putting them at a competitive disadvantage.” It also claimed, using wildly unrealistic assumptions, that Cardin-Lugar “imposes significant compliance costs.”
But this first, months-long study of the real impacts of Cardin-Lugar-like reporting requirements by Britain’s Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found neither to be the case. Their survey, a “full review of the impact of the new reporting regime on business, civil society, and investors,” was conducted by an international accounting firm after the first year of reporting. (The first reports weren’t due until 2016.)
Britain is the first European Union country to implement a Cardin-Lugar-esque law, following an E.U. directive that was patterned after Cardin-Lugar. (Canada also passed similar legislation.) The SEC has said the three jurisdictions’ laws are so nearly identical that a report submitted to either of the others would be acceptable to the U.S.
The conclusions of the British government report were echoed in Washington last month by the head of France’s leading international oil company, Total, which is also subject to the same reporting requirements. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said, “We are publishing a table with all the money we are giving to governments…I have no problem to publish these figures…It is part of what we need to do to be acceptable with the society.”
Pouyanné also noted archly that a similar regulation is not in place in the U.S., “which is a distortion of competitiveness.”
The finding of no significant burden or competitive harm from extractives reporting should be a key data point for the SEC, which is in the process of rewriting the Cardin-Lugar regulation that was struck down by Congress.
Equally important, the agency should note that the British report found the extractives reporting regulations are working well and “should remain as is.” It said “key success criteria have been met in terms of greater levels of transparency, compliance levels and avoidance of unnecessary costs to business.” While there is only limited experience with the rules, it found, “There is every indication that in the medium to long term, the benefits of the regulations would outweigh the costs imposed by it.”
The Trump administration, which blithely abandoned American leadership in the fight against resource-related corruption, should also observe that Britain takes seriously its global leadership role and its international commitments. In the report the British government argued, contrary to the Trump view, that abandoning the reporting requirements would put Britain “at risk of significant reputational damage, and would undermine much of the good work already done in encouraging transparency and accountability in the extractives industry. Furthermore the UK would be walking away from a high-profile policy commitment.”