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GENERAL ASSEMBLY HIGHLIGHTS

The General Assembly considered Agenda Item 39, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and Agenda Item 96(c), the sustainable use and conservation of living marine resources on the high seas, on 5 December 1995. Under Agenda Item 39, delegates had before them the Report of the Secretary-General (A/50/713) and a draft resolution regarding UNCLOS (A/50/L.34). Document A /50/713 states that since the entry into force of UNCLOS in November 1994, 13 more States had deposited their instruments of ratification, accession or succession, bringing the total number of States parties to 81.

Under Agenda Item 96(c), the delegates considered the reports of the Secretary-General on unauthorized fishing(A/50/549), on the work of the Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (A/50/550), on the implementation of the moratorium on large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing (A/50/553), and a report of the FAO on fisheries bycatch and discards (A/50/552), along with a draft resolution concerning the Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks (A/50/L.35) and a draft resolution on large-scale pelagic drift-net fishing and unauthorized fishing in zones under national jurisdiction (A/50/L.36).

During the day-long debate, most delegates that discussed the Agreement at length — typically those that also signed — offered praise for its achievement and support for the enforcement provisions. Several delegations, most notably members of the EU, the Republic of Korea and Japan, noted that their failure to sign the Agreement was based on technical delays and stated their commitment to the Agreement's principles and intent to continue participating in the process.

The following is a summary of the debate relevant to the Agreement of the Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.

Amb. Satya Nandan (Fiji) made opening remarks in his capacity as President of the Meeting of States Parties to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and then introduced the three draft resolutions for consideration. He stated that the entry into force of UNCLOS on 16 November 1994 was particularly significant, given the controversy that was attached to it for more than a decade. UNCLOS's entry into force and healthy support for it must now be translated into its full implementation, and much remains to be done at national, regional and global levels. He stated that the process of organizing the new institutions created by the Convention has already begun, praised the report of the Secretary-General as an important vehicle for promoting uniform application of UNCLOS, and reported that the Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks had concluded its work by opening for signature an Agreement adopted by consensus in August.

CANADA: Brian Tobin, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, stated that the threat of depletion to straddling stocks had been the greatest on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, which made the Conference a national priority for Canada. He said that regional fisheries organizations making sound conservation decisions that are adhered to in practice will become the global norm only when the new Agreement is implemented. Full implementation requires not only entry into force, but also ratification by all major fishing nations and conformity by all regional fisheries management organizations. He noted the emergence of a new conservation ethic internationally, citing the newly approved control measures by NAFO, the recent meeting of North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers in Newfoundland, the remarks of US Senator Ted Stevens at the signing ceremony, and the Agreement's inclusion of the precautionary approach.

SRI LANKA: Amb. Herman L. De Silva stated that UNCLOS and the Agreement are evidence of revolutionary changes in international cooperation toward the rational management of marine resources. Sri Lanka is establishing a domestic legal framework that supports UNCLOS, with special emphasis on regional cooperation, and is finalizing the necessary internal procedures to become a party to the Agreement. Sri Lanka also chaired the latest meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission and offered to host its next conference.

AUSTRALIA: MP David Jull welcomed the Agreement's legally-binding form and detailed prescription on flag State responsibility. The Conference grappled with difficult issues relating to enforcement, but produced balanced provisions that confirm the primary responsibility of the flag State and provide for development of cooperative mechanisms for monitoring, control and surveillance. He said the Agreement will make a major contribution to resource security and Australia's signature of the Agreement signals its full support for the regime the Agreement creates and to the principles it embodies.

UKRAINE: Mikhala Shevedenko, Minister for Fisheries, stated that the Ukrainian Parliament has undertaken efforts to bring national legislation into accordance with the Agreement, and noted laws adopted in 1995 regarding exclusive economic zones and mercantile navigation. The Parliament intends to call upon States bordering the Black Sea to take steps toward improving regional cooperation and conservation of the Sea's resources.

MALAYSIA: Amb. Razali Ismail characterized the Agreement as an important vehicle for global cooperation and urged States to apply the precautionary approach widely in the conservation, management and exploitation of SFS and HMFS. He noted that the international community has labored to develop a legal regime that governs sea matters, and States share a common responsibility to ensure that unilateral and arbitrary actions do not wreck it. He also expressed grave concern over recent nuclear tests undertaken in the South Pacific and the consequential detrimental effects they will have on the marine environment.

MARSHALL ISLANDS: Guy E.C. Maitland, Senior Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs, assured the General Assembly that the Marshall Islands would work with its Pacific neighbors and improve existing partnerships to the extent possible. He also said the Agreement will be presented to Parliament in January 1996.

INDONESIA: Isslamet Poernomo stated that the Agreement constitutes a milestone in the endeavors of the international community toward the common goal of long-term stable and sustainable living resources of the oceans. He noted its provision for strengthening cooperation, including technical cooperation, to ensure responsible fishing and assistance to developing countries. To strengthen regional cooperation, Indonesia has hosted a series of workshops on managing potential conflict in the South China Sea.

NORWAY: Jan Henry T. Olsen, Minister of Fisheries, stated that Norway has initiated preparations for ratification and intends to the submit the Agreement for the consent of its National Assembly early next year. The Agreement strikes a careful balance between the various national interests involved, and every State has had to make compromises in order to make the Agreement possible. He also noted that Norway is ready to join other nations in constructive discussions on the establishment of procedures for enforcement.

SPAIN: Amb. Juan Antonio Y߽ez-Barnuevo, on behalf of the European Union, stated that the EU has participated in the Conference, but it is not possible for it to sign the Agreement, as the required internal procedures have not yet been completed. Once these procedures have been concluded, the EU will assure their continued participation and engagement in this process. He said that the EU is firmly committed to responsible fishing and international cooperation in conservation and is aware of the importance of the new stage that has opened for the Law of the Sea.

SWEDEN: Hans Linton expressed regret that Sweden could not yet sign the Agreement because the internal procedures within the EU had not been completed. He noted the urgent need to strengthen the regional organizations in order to implement the Agreement, and said Sweden has proposed that the FAO should prepare for assisting them, particularly in developing country regions. Sweden has also proposed that the FAO carry out a comprehensive study on possible options for mobilizing the necessary resources for financing fixed and operating costs.

UNITED STATES: Alfred DeCotiis stated that the US intends to apply the Agreement provisionally pending ratification, and is proceeding with domestic procedures for accession to UNCLOS and ratification of the Agreement. The US supports the Agreement because its general principles and specific provisions on the use of a precautionary approach, compatibility, regional and subregional organizations, enforcement and the peaceful settlement of disputes strike a reasonable balance between conservation and fishing concerns. He also expressed hope that all nations that signed the Agreement will soon deposit their instruments of ratification, and urged all nations unable to sign the previous day to do so soon.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Amb. Utula U. Samana, on behalf of the members of the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency, said that the support of South Pacific nations was demonstrated by the number of States that signed the Agreement. Because of the magnitude of their tuna resources, the South Pacific nations expressed constant support throughout the negotiating process, and were particularly pleased to see that the needs of small island States are acknowledged. He said the challenge now lies in implementation, and expressed deep regret that while this process is working toward establishing legal regimes, some countries' actions undermine it. He said nuclear testing in the area undermines the efforts of the international community and threatens the ecosystem.

CHINA: Amb. Wang Xuexian expressed concern that some provisions of the Agreement exceed the scope of the corresponding provisions of UNCLOS and are contradictory to some basic principles of the Law of the Sea. Because of insufficient consultations and negotiations at the Conference, some reasonable views and opinions of some States that have a major interest in marine fisheries failed to be duly reflected in relevant provisions. He said that the implementation of these articles might encounter difficulties and might increase disputes among States with different interests, particularly those related to exclusive jurisdiction of flag States over their own ships, use of force by inspectors and law enforcement actions.

ISRAEL: Shabtai Rosenne stated that the problems of oceans are closely related and expressed appreciation that this session of the General Assembly was considering all ocean issues together, as evidenced by the Secretary-General's report. He said the Rio Conference rightly concluded that the Agreement should be contained within UNCLOS and expressed hope this model would be followed. He said that Israel hopes to ratify the Agreement soon and hopes that each resolution before this Assembly could be adopted by consensus.

MEXICO: Socorro Flores noted that only a year after UNCLOS entered into force the number of accessions has increased rapidly. She stressed the need for technical and legal support to developing countries to help implement UNCLOS on the national level.

ITALY: Amb. F. Paolo Fulci stated that Italy deposited its instrument of ratification for UNCLOS on 13 January 1995 and its domestic legal system has been modified accordingly. These new rules will also guide Italy's relevant foreign policy, as evidenced by its contribution to the drafting of the new Barcelona Convention and protocols on the protection of the Mediterranean.

MALTA: Walter Balzan said that the Agreement calls for more effective enforcement by coastal, port and flag States in the implementation of conservation and management of fish stocks, but noted that all claims to rights must be accompanied by the willingness to shoulder the corresponding obligations and responsibilities. States must ensure that they will exercise discipline and responsibility on the high seas.

REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Amb. Park Soo Gil stated that the General Assembly of the Republic of Korea has approved the ratification of UNCLOS and will soon deposit its instrument of ratification and modify its domestic laws. He recalled his government's active participation in the adoption of the Agreement, and noted its intent to sign the Agreement as soon as the internal procedures have been completed. The Republic of Korea has also pursued necessary measures to ensure that all unauthorized activities of fishing vessels are subject to stern punishment, including the revocation of fishing licenses.

UNITED KINGDOM: David Anderson reported on a recent workshop on Environmental Science, Comprehensiveness and Consistency in Global Decision-making on the Oceans, organized and co-chaired by the UK and Brazil. The UK, in order to mark the adoption of the Agreement, will make a contribution to its Fellowship Programme, which will enable the Fellow to study the Law of the Sea at a British academic institution.

SINGAPORE: Michelle Teo-Jacob stated that Singapore, as a small island State situated at a major maritime crossroads linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans, placed primary importance on the freedom of navigation and other passage rights. She called upon all States to ratify UNCLOS as the most effective means of conducting international maritime relations.

PHILIPPINES: Prof. Haydee B. Yorac supported all three draft resolutions and noted that the Philippines had ratified UNCLOS in May 1984. He noted a clear balance in the Agreement between conservation and sustainable use and expressed his government's full support for the principles it espouses. The Philippines intends to sign the Agreement after internal and technical procedures have been completed.

NEW ZEALAND: Felicity Wong stated that the Agreement was an important milestone at a time when many key fish stocks around the world have either completely collapsed or are under serious threat. She emphasized that while the enforcement provisions break significant new ground, the Agreement remains fully consistent with UNCLOS. Article 92 envisages that exceptions to the general principle of flag State responsibility can be made in the context of international agreements providing for exceptional circumstances, such as when a flag State completely disregards its responsibilities.

JAPAN: Matsushiro Horiguchi highlighted the Agreement's provisions to ensure the compatibility of measures in the high seas and waters under national jurisdiction, noting that the only workable solution is close cooperation among the countries concerned. He said that coastal countries and distant-water fishing countries do not always have the same interests, but the common desire for sustainable utilization may unite all nations. Japan was unable to sign the Agreement yesterday, as internal procedures have not yet been completed, but is considering the possibility of doing so at a later date.

ICELAND: Amb. Gunnar P´┐Żlsson said that the Agreement will be an important tool for achieving better fisheries management and welcomed the initiative of Japan in hosting an International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security in Kyoto. He also expressed confidence that the number of signatories to the Agreement will increase soon.

BELIZE: Amb. Edward A. Laing stated that the Agreement represented a further giant step toward protecting the world's living marine resources. He said that international agencies should be prepared to contribute to the effort to improve the environment and governments should provide them with resources.

GERMANY: Amb. Tono Eitel said that Germany will serve as host for the UNCLOS International Tribunal and was taking practical steps in preparation.

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Yakov Ostrovski expressed support for the resolutions regarding fisheries and congratulated States that were bold enough to pursue the compromises that fostered success. He said the most urgent task was to put the Agreement into practice.

FRANCE: In a right of reply, Jean-Michel Gaussot noted that two delegations had taken this meeting as an excuse to challenge nuclear testing without proof that it affects their environment. The harmlessness of French nuclear testing has been proven by scientists and there is no risk to the health of populations.

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