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WWF Applauds Efforts to Ratify UN Convention on Law of the Sea

Senior officials from Defense and State Department testify in support of treaty before Senate Foreign Relations Committee

WASHINGTON DC - Senior officials from the State and Defense Departments testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in favor of a proposal under which the United States would join the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, a major treaty governing shipping, commerce and trade across the world’s oceans.

Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte told the committee that ratification of the treaty is a “win-win proposition” because the U.S. already adheres to most provisions and would gain a seat at the table in future negotiations over the international treaties that largely regulate the world’s oceanic resources.

“The treaty supports US interests in the health of the world’s oceans and the living resources they contain,” said Negroponte.

Other administration witnesses speaking in support of the move included Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England and Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, vice chief of Naval Operations.

The treaty covers the management of shipping and navigation, deep seas mining, fishing and management of the ocean’s living resources, as well provisions important for national security and industry. Officials said today that by providing a legal framework for activities important for national security, the Law of the Sea would protect the military’s ability to conduct business over the oceans.

“WWF believes this hearing marks an historic opportunity for the Senate to act in the best interests of US security and ocean management,” said William Eichbaum, WWF’s vice president for Marine Portfolio.

Senate approval is the final step needed for the U.S. to formally join the convention, and today’s hearing was a key step in securing that approval.

“World Wildlife Fund applauds the leadership of Senators Joe Biden and Richard Lugar, Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, for holding this hearing today, and once again seeking US accession to the treaty,” said Jason Patlis WWF’s vice president of government affairs.

“Their steadfast commitment over the years has helped to keep this issue alive, and today’s strong message from the administration should spark the full Senate to act to join the treaty.  By joining, the US will be well positioned to not only gain a seat at the table, but to once again provide leadership in ocean governance.”

The treaty covers the management of shipping, navigation, deep sea mining, fishing and management of the ocean’s living resources, as well as provisions important for national security and industry. Officials said today that by providing a legal framework for activities important for national security, the Law of the Sea would protect the military’s ability to conduct business over the oceans.

The treaty, which went into effect in 1994, has been approved by 152 nations and the European Commission but was never ratified by the US.

All major U.S. ocean industries, including the offshore oil and gas, maritime transportation, commerce, fishing and shipbuilding support U.S. accession to the Convention.

The Senate Foreign Relations committee voted unanimously for accession in 2004 but the measure was not brought to the floor for a vote. Because the U.S. has voluntarily complied with the entire convention since 1983, accession would not require any changes in U.S. policy.

An additional hearing on the Convention will be held in October with non-governmental
witnesses, at which time proponents and opponents, as well as ocean industry representatives, will be invited to testify.

WWF has long supported US accession to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Most recently WWF Chairman Bruce Babbitt and CEO Carter Roberts joined with more than 100 representatives of industry, NGOs, former government officials, and academics in a letter of support addressed to Senators Reid and McConnell.