Letter to the Senate Committee on U.S. Accession to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea

Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - 8:00pm

The Honorable John F. Kerry
Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510

The Honorable Richard G. Lugar
Ranking Member
Committee on Foreign Relations
United States Senate
Washington, DC  20510

Dear Chairman Kerry and Ranking Member Lugar:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than three million businesses and organizations of every size, sector, and region, supports U.S. accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the “Law of the Sea Treaty” or “Treaty”).  Accession will provide American businesses certainty and legal equality to the largest of the Exclusive Economic Zones (“EEZ”) available under the Law of the Sea Treaty, and the corresponding natural resources and shipping rights of way.  Accession will also provide much-needed certainty and predictability to claims of control over territory in the Arctic, enhancing our national security.

The Law of the Sea Treaty secures each coastal nation’s sovereign rights over living and non-living resources and the marine environment of the 200-mile EEZ.  The Treaty also provides favorable conditions for securing access to the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, which is important given that Alaska’s shelf may extend as far as 600 nautical miles.  Proper delineation of the extended continental shelf could bring an additional 4.1 million square miles of ocean under U.S. sovereign rights—an area larger than the lower 48 states.  The Treaty also provides a mechanism for U.S. companies to obtain access to minerals of the deep seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The Chamber remains concerned with the Treaty’s vague, overbroad environmental provisions, which could be interpreted in a way that conflicts with our nation’s environmental statutes, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.  To combat this problem, the Chamber urges the Senate, in its advice and consent, to state clearly that the Treaty’s environmental provisions are not self-executing, and that ratification of the Treaty does not create private rights of action or domestic legal rights against the U.S. government or its nationals.

Accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty will protect the claims of the United States to the vast natural resources contained on the ocean floor, and will ensure that ships flying American flags will travel safely and securely through international waters.  To date, 161 countries and the European Community have signed and ratified the Treaty; despite bipartisan support, the United States remains the primary industrialized nation not to have ratified.  The U.S. Chamber urges accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty.


R. Bruce Josten

Cc: Members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations