East Timor set to benefit from undersea oil riches in maritime border treaty with Australia



Associated Press

Australia and East Timor signed a historic treaty drawing their maritime boundary today, ending years of bitter wrangling over billions of dollars of oil and gas riches lying beneath the Timor Sea and opening a new chapter in relations.

East Timorese Minister of State Agio Pereira and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sign a treaty during a ceremony at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Australia and East Timor signed a treaty that draws the first-ever maritime border between the neighbors, resolving years of bitter wrangling with a deal that carves up billions of dollars of oil and gas riches that lie beneath the Timor Sea. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

East Timorese Minister of State Agio Pereira and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop sign a treaty during a ceremony at United Nations headquarters.

Source: Associated Press

The agreement 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.

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 chairman of the Conciliation Commission, Danish Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen, then signed as a witness.

Bishop told reporters that under the treaty revenue from exploiting the sea's natural resources will be split either 80-20 or 70-30, with the biggest share going to impoverished East Timor.

"We are talking billions of dollars over the life of such a resource project," she said.

Pereira said the revenue from the new agreement is crucial for East Timor, a half-island nation of 1.5 million people who are among the poorest in the world. He said 65 percent, mostly young people, are looking for jobs.

The dispute has dominated and soured relations since 2002, when East Timor emerged as a fledgling nation independent of Indonesia.

The terms of the deal negotiated under the Conciliation Commission in The Hague, Netherlands, through the Permanent Court of Arbitration are expected to be made public shortly, Australian diplomats said.

East Timor achieving its ambition of a border midway between the two countries could encourage Indonesia to renegotiate its own much longer maritime boundary with Australia, agreed in 1971 under outdated international law.

The Indonesian border with Australia extends east and west of the new East Timor-Australia boundary and the vast expanse Indonesia allowed Australia is a source of increasing irritation for the Indonesian government.

East Timor's oil revenues, which finance more than 90 percent of government spending, are rapidly dwindling due to the exhaustion of existing fields in its territory.

The country's $US16 billion sovereign wealth fund could be empty within 10 years because the government's annual withdrawals are exceeding its investment returns, according to La'o Hamutuk, an East Timorese research institute.

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