Differences over sharing of oceans’ resources resolved
Diplomats to meet in NY to finalise draft pact.
DEVELOPED and developing countries have resolved their differences over the most ambitious treaty to date on how to share the oceans’ resources, according to a United Nations official.
He told The Straits Times yesterday that diplomats would meet in New York next week to finalise a draft agreement that would be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in the last week of July this year.
“Both developed and developing countries have agreed to go along with whatever substantial changes to Part 11 of the Convention. There are no major hiccups,” said the official who took part in the negotiations in New York recently.
He is attending the current three-day conference in Singapore on sustainable development of coastal and ocean areas in South-east Asia which began yesterday.
The conference brings together 70 representatives from government, the private sector and academia to review the major issues associated with the implementation of Agenda 21 at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development.
It is organised by the National University of Singapore, the Bangkok-based South-east Asian Programme in Ocean, Law andPolicy, and the Commission on Environmental Law.
The UN official said that industrial nations such as the United States, Britain and West Germany had refused to sign or ratify the 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention, particularly Part 11 which set out who owned and administered mining of the deep seabed.
He said that the draft agreement, which was hatched at the informal consultations chaired by the UN Secretary-General, Dr Boutros Ghali, reached a consensus in the areas of decision- making in the ISA’s 36-member executive council, technology transfer and setting production limits.
“The amendments are meant to accommodate the US which objected strongly to the earlier provisions,” the official said in an interview.
Forty countries, including five from the developed world – US, Japan, the United Kingdom, France and Belgium – were needed to ratify the agreement, he added.
The official said that he expected the General Assembly to pass a resolution to support the amendments on deep seabed mining in July. But he was doubtful that they would get the required number of ratifications by Nov 16 this year when the UN treaty comes into force.
“The agreement will then be made provisional to countries that have acceded to it until ratification probably next year,” he said.
Institute of Policy Studies director Tommy Koh, who opened the conference at Regent hotel, said that “the beauty of the negotiations” was the linkage between the package of amendments and the UN Convention.
“So all those who adopt the package of amendments will ‘ipso facto’ also accede to the Convention.”
Drawn up to regulate every aspect of three-fifths of the earth’s surface, the UN pact has been signed by 159 countries and ratified by developing countries from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
Developing countries, noted Prof Koh, were much more “realistic” in their demands. “The dream of a bonanza on deep seabed mining has disappeared.”
But Indonesia’s ambassador-at-large Hashim Djalal felt that the process would not be as “smooth sailing” as it appeared tobe.
He said that many developing nations, especially from Africa, had not taken part in the informal consultations.
They might “not be in the picture” when the UN Convention and the amended seabed provisions were implemented, he stressed.
“The clearest indication of acceptance will be the number of signatories to the agreement, not in the ratification process,” he said.
“The larger the number of signatories, the greater its support. We will have to wait and see.”
* The International Seabed Authority It will be scaled down. Its operating arm, the Enterprise, will not begin operations until the year 2010.
* Technology transfer Commercial mining operators will not be compelled to transfer the technology to developing countries or The Enterprise. This will be made available through joint-venture arrangements.
* Decision making Land-based producers of seabed minerals, investors in seabed-mining activity and the minerals’ consumers will be able to block decisions taken by the International Seabed Authority’s 36-member executive council.
* Production There will not be any limits to production of deep seabed minerals.
* Economic assistance A certain amount of the proceeds of seabed mining will be set aside in an assistance fund for developing countries which are land-based mineral producers.