Australia and East Timor reach historic worldwide agreement
08 March, 2018, 03:45 | Author: Judy Cobb
The dispute had prevented the development of the Greater Sunrise gas fields in the region, which are owned by a joint venture which includes Royal Dutch Shell PLC.
Before a crowd of cameras, diplomats, and officials, two copies of the treaty were signed by Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, and East Timor's minister for delimitation of borders, Hermenegildo Augusto Cabral Pereira.
The agreement was doubly historic because it also marked the successful conclusion of the first-ever negotiations to settle maritime differences under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - a process that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged other countries to use to peacefully resolve such disagreements. "Our treaty reflects the value and importance of those rules and institutions and the benefits for states in abiding by those rules", she said.
For East Timor, a half-island nation of 1.5 million people who are among the poorest in the world, the treaty is crucial to economic development and employment opportunities. According to the treaty (available here), Dili and Canberra have agreed to a maritime boundary along the median line between both countries and have set the terms for a split of the revenue from the Greater Sunrise gas fields located in the Timor Sea.
East Timor's chief negotiator, former president Xanana Gusmao, has accused Australia of colluding with resource companies to ensure the resources are piped south to Darwin instead of north to East Timor.
"We are talking billions of dollars over the life of such a resource project", Bishop said.
In 1989, when East Timor was still part of Indonesia, the governments of Australia and Indonesia signed what became known as the Timor Gap Treaty, which allowed both countries to share in the wealth of the Timor Gap equally. It is desperate to develop Greater Sunrise as quickly as possible, because East Timor remains heavily reliant on gas and oil revenue, and its existing fields are expected to run dry within a decade.
The agreement will see a partition created halfway between the countries, rather than along the continental shelf as Australia had originally proposed, meaning that a much more substantial proportion of Greater Sunrise will fall into Timor-Leste's territory. The talks ended with a treaty in 2006.
Timor-Leste has struck a historic deal with Australia granting it majority ownership of offshore gas fields believed to be worth as much as $65 billion, marking the end of a sixteen-year legal dispute between the two nations over their lack of a maritime boundary. Australia denied the allegation.
"Australia has an enduring interest in a stable and prosperous Timor-Leste. we want Timor-Leste to achieve its economic potential", she said.
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