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Senators and industry reps push for Law of the Sea Treaty

Accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty is crucial to protecting U.S. economic interests, senators and industry leaders argued during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday. "On rare earth minerals, on oil and gas, on whatever unknown minerals or products may be findable under the ocean, we have a choice," said committee ...

Accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty is crucial to protecting U.S. economic interests, senators and industry leaders argued during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.

Accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty is crucial to protecting U.S. economic interests, senators and industry leaders argued during a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Thursday.

"On rare earth minerals, on oil and gas, on whatever unknown minerals or products may be findable under the ocean, we have a choice," said committee chairman John Kerry (D-MA). "We can either join the major industrial nations … and secure the benefits of the Law of the Sea Treaty for our businesses and our industries, or we can remain on the outside."

The European Union and 161 countries belong to the treaty, which came into force in 1994 and created rules for determining mineral and other rights beneath the ocean floor. Senator Kerry has led the push for ratification, while critics argue that the treaty erodes American sovereignty and diverts royalties to an international seabed authority. Pentagon leaders, including Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, have voiced their support for accession, which they say would codify U.S. rights to use international shipping lanes and lay underwater cables, level the playing field for mineral rights, and result in more jobs and revenue.

"Today … China controls about 97 percent of the production market for these [rare earth] minerals," Kerry said. "Can anybody in their right mind suggest that the U.S. is safer … in a situation where we’re sitting on the outside?"

Ratifying the treaty would significantly increase the potential scope of U.S. domestic energy production by expanding the definition of the outer continental shelf, top industry representatives told the committee.

"It would secure an additional 4.1 million square miles [of ocean floor] under U.S. jurisdiction," said American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard.

But to reap the benefits, Kerry added, the United States needs to act quickly so that U.S. energy companies can compete with foreign firms.

"They want and need certainty in order to invest the billions of dollars required to develop the extended shelf, especially in the Arctic, where the Chinese and Russians are already laying claims," he noted.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Thomas Donahue testified that the treaty is "critical to America’s global leadership" and that the benefits of accession outweigh any negative criticism.

"The U.S. has more than any country to gain or to lose," he said. "The treaty is not perfect. It’ll be changed like all treaties are, but we better be sitting at the table."

<p> Allison Good is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy. </p>

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