Australia Fails Fairness Test for East Timor
Complex Trade Agreement with U.S. Undermines Australia's Claim
on Timor Boundary Talks
For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller,
May 17, 2004 - On the eve of the signing of a free trade pact
between the U.S. and Australia, the East Timor
Network (ETAN) urged Australia to speed up it its negotiations with
East Timor on a permanent maritime boundary.
Trade representatives from both countries plan to sign the
Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) in Washington Tuesday.
"If Australia can negotiate a complex agreement of hundreds of
pages in under a year, surely it can accelerate its talks with East
Timor over their maritime boundary," said John M. Miller,
spokesperson for ETAN.
"Australia's claim that it cannot meet more than twice a year on
the boundary is absurd. Delimiting the East Timor-Australia boundary
according to current international law should not take long," added
Miller. "In the 1970s, Australia negotiated far longer and more
difficult maritime boundaries with Indonesia in just 2-1/2 years."
Australian and East Timorese officials held their first formal
negotiating session in April, nearly two years after East Timor
called for talks.
"The US$1 million a day Australia is illegally taking from the
Laminaria-Corallina oil field is certainly a lucrative motive for
stalling," added Miller.
"Australia's withdrawal from international dispute resolution
mechanisms on boundary disputes should give pause. One wonders
whether Australia will withdraw from the AUSFTA's resolution
mechanisms if it fears it won't get its way," said Miller.
Boundaries & Oil pages
Negotiations on the Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement began on
March 17, 2003, and the completed agreement was announced on
February 8. Either country can withdraw from the agreement with six
months written notification.
Substantial oil and natural gas deposits lie under the Timor Sea
between Australia and East Timor. The fate of tens of billions of
dollars of revenue depend on a permanent boundary agreement.
East Timor, which became an independent nation in May 2002, has
never had maritime boundaries.
In October 2002, East Timor enacted a Maritime Boundary Law,
claiming a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone in all
directions, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the
Sea. Where neighboring claims overlap, as is the case with East
Timor and Australia, countries must negotiate a permanent maritime
boundary, usually halfway between their coastlines.
In March 2002, Australia officially withdrew from international
legal mechanisms to resolve boundary issues that cannot be settled
by negotiation -- the International Court of Justice and the 1982
UNCLOS Tribunal. These actions left the soon-to-be-independent East
Timor with no legal mechanism to establish its boundaries in the
absence of cooperative negotiations from Australia.
The Laminaria-Corallina oil field is mostly depleted after
generating more than (US) $1 billion in revenues for the Australian
government since 1999; none of this revenue has gone to East Timor.
If the Australian government continues to delay a permanent maritime
boundary for decades, they will have taken 60% of East Timor's
entire oil and gas entitlement.
East Timor has protested Australia's recent issuance of new
exploration licenses in the disputed Greater Sunrise gas field, the
most lucrative of all known fields on East Timor's side of the
53 members of Congress called on Australia to "move
seriously and expeditiously in negotiations with East Timor to
establish a fair, permanent maritime boundary and an equitable
sharing of oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea." The Senate
Appropriations Committee has urged "both governments to engage in
good faith negotiations to resolve their maritime boundary
expeditiously in accordance with international legal principles."
East Timor is among the poorest of the world's countries,
suffering from very low levels of basic services and high
unemployment. East Timor is currently struggling not to go into debt
to international financial institutions, as it needs to cover a
(US)$126 million budgetary financing gap between 2005 and 2007.
"A boundary determined in accordance with established principles
of international law as embodied in the United Nations Convention on
the Law of the Sea and as spelled out in decisions of the
International Court of Justice would triple the income of our
country," East Timor's
Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri said at the opening of the April talks.
"For us, a twenty year negotiation is not an option. Timor-Leste
loses one million dollars a day due to Australia's unlawful
exploitation of resources in the disputed area. That is too many
lost and wasted lives."
The East Timor Action Network/U.S. supports human dignity
for the people of East Timor by advocating for democracy;
sustainable development; social, legal and economic justice; and
human rights, including women's rights.