Race to reach accord on management of ocean resources

DEVELOPED and developing countries will have to come to an agreement within the next four months on how the resources of the oceans are to be managed – or 20 years of work may go down the drain, warns one of the officials involved in the negotiations.

Work between 1973 and 1982 had led to the creation of the 1982 United Nations Law of the Sea Convention.

But many countries, especially the industrialised nations, have refused to accept the conditions of the treaty, particularly Part 11 which sets out who owns and will administer mining of the deep seabed.

In Asean, only Indonesia and the Philippines have ratified the treaty.

Talks, termed “informal consultations” and chaired by UN Secretary-General Boutros Ghali, are now going on to make the 1982 convention acceptable to the developed countries.

Referring to this, Mr Crispin Conroy, an Australian official involved in the informal consultations, noted in a paper setting out his country’s position: “There is a general feeling that, if a text is finalised, there will need to be a special meeting of the UN General Assembly to adopt the paper by mid-1994 at the latest so as to allow countries several months to organise ratification.”

What they are racing against is the impending implementation of the 1982 Convention on Nov 16 this year. Once the convention comes into force, amending it would be very difficult. That is why participants at the informal consultations are working hard to produce an agreement, which amends the convention’s section on seabed mining to the
satisfaction of those holding out, before Nov 16. The next round of informal consultations takes place in New York next month. Mr Satya Nandan, the architect of the draft agreement and former UN Under-Secretary-General for Law of the Sea from 1983 to 1992, shared Mr Conroy’s concern:

“Making changes after the convention comes into force can be a very cumbersome procedure and it may take years and at least 60 ratifications for the amendments to come into force,” he said.

He added that both sides were trying to reach a consensus by next month so that there was enough time for the text of the agreement to be harmonised into six different languages before its adoption by the General Assembly.

States would then have plenty of time between the adoption of this new agreement and the entry into force of the Convention to decide on whether to become parties to it, he said.

Mr Nandan, who is Fiji’s representative to the informal consultations, was very optimistic about resolving the issue before the November deadline.

“We are very close to settling the matter. Given the fact that we have been negotiating since 1990 and we have smoothed out almost all the problems, we are just about to clinch the deal.

Mr Conroy was also optimistic, though guardedly so. In his paper, obtained by The Sunday Times, he said that during the recent consultations “a number of delegations which in the past had been outspoken against changes to Part 11 softened their approach considerably”.

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