Remarks at a UN General Assembly Debate on Oceans and the Law of the Sea and on Sustainable Fisheries

Jennifer Barber
Special Advisor and Public Delegate
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 8, 2020


Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates,

My delegation is pleased to co-sponsor the General Assembly resolution on oceans and the law of the sea.

The United States underscores the central importance of international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.

Faced with attempts to impede the lawful exercise of navigational rights and freedoms under international law, it is more important than ever that we remain steadfast in our resolve to uphold these rights and freedoms.

While our concern is global, freedom of the seas is especially threatened in the South and East China Seas. The assertion of unlawful and sweeping maritime claims – including through ongoing intimidation and coercion against long-standing oil and gas development and fishing practices by others – threatens the rules-based international order that has enabled the region to prosper. States are entitled to develop and manage the natural resources subject to their sovereign rights without interference.

Our position in the South China Sea – and elsewhere in the world – is simple: the rights and interests of all nations – regardless of size, power, and military capabilities – must be respected.

As Secretary Pompeo noted in his statement on the U.S. Position on Maritime Claims in the South China Sea on July 13, 2020, “[i]n the South China Sea, we seek to preserve peace and stability, uphold freedom of the seas in a manner consistent with international law, maintain the unimpeded flow of commerce, and oppose any attempt to use coercion or force to settle disputes. We share these deep and abiding interests with our many allies and partners who have long endorsed a rules-based international order.”

In this regard, we call on all States to resolve their territorial and maritime disputes peacefully and free from coercion, as well as fashion their maritime claims and conduct their activities in the maritime domain in accordance with international law as reflected in the Convention; to respect the freedoms of navigation and overflight and other lawful uses of the sea that all users of the maritime domain enjoy; and to settle disputes peacefully in accordance with international law. We call on all states to ensure effective implementation of international law applicable to combating piracy, and to unite in the deterrence, prevention, and prosecution of transnational criminal organizations and those engaging in transnational crime at sea.

The United States values the platform that the General Assembly provides to elevate important ocean issues. The annual oceans and the law of the sea resolution serves as an opportunity for the global community to identify key ocean issues and develop constructive ways to address them.

Although this year’s resolution is a technical rollover from last year’s text because of the pandemic, with much of its text remaining the same as last year, delegations nevertheless succeeded in moving forward important processes and in recognizing a significant achievement in the international community’s understanding of the state of our ocean – the second World Ocean Assessment.

The United States expresses its sincere appreciation to the Co-Chairs, the Group of Experts, the Pool of Experts, the Bureau, the Secretariat, and all Member States, who demonstrated a shared commitment to completing the second World Ocean Assessment, and we welcome the beginning of the third cycle of the Regular Process. We believe a solid foundation has been built for the third cycle to make further strides in strengthening the scientific assessment of the state of the marine environment in order to enhance the scientific basis for policymaking. The World Ocean Assessment has a critical role to play in informing us all of the pressures our ocean is facing, and we look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues through the Regular Process to maximize its reach and impact.

We are also pleased to join consensus on the resolution on sustainable fisheries. As with the resolution on oceans and the law of the sea, limitations on our ability to meet and negotiate led to a technical rollover of the sustainable fisheries resolution. Accordingly, we refer to past U.S. statements on any issues of substance.

We appreciate the constructive cooperation of delegations, under the patient leadership of the Coordinator, to develop a pragmatic approach to rescheduling meetings related to sustainable fisheries disrupted by the pandemic. The United States looks forward to an informal consultation of States Parties to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement in the second half of 2021, if conditions allow, and the resumed Review Conference and bottom fishing review in 2022.

We encourage States and relevant organizations to consider providing updates that could inform the upcoming workshop on the implementation of measures to address the impacts of bottom fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks. The United States also notes with appreciation the clarification provided via correspondence that any such submissions will be published as they are received, following the current practice of the Secretariat. We believe posting reports unedited as they are received promotes transparency and would like to thank delegations for engaging in these discussions to ensure views are always shared in such an impartial manner.

Finally, while we did not have an opportunity to discuss new substantive issues in the sustainable fisheries resolution, the past year has highlighted new challenges in fisheries management. Fishing activities continue around the world – contributing to livelihoods and food security during this challenging time, even as COVID-19 has made the monitoring of some fisheries more difficult. The international community has also focused with new urgency on specific examples of inadequately controlled fishing activities, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, which affect everything from the health of ecosystems and coastal communities to the working conditions of observers and crew to the economic development and prosperity of individual Member States. We will continue to call for flag states to take responsibility for these activities and adopt more robust management measures where needed in regional fisheries management organizations.

With regard to both resolutions, we refer you to our General Statement delivered on November 18, 2020, to the 75th General Assembly Second Committee session, which addresses our concerns regarding the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the Paris Agreement, climate change, reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and technology transfer.

We would like to thank the coordinators of the informal consultations on both resolutions – Ms. Natalie Morris-Sharma of Singapore and Mr. Andreas Kravik of Norway – for their outstanding coordination of the resolutions through an unprecedented modality of virtual work resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. We would also like to thank the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea for its expertise and hard work throughout the virtual consultations on both resolutions.

Finally, we express our appreciation for delegations’ flexibility and cooperation in embracing the virtual formats taken for our consultations on both resolutions. It is our hope that this spirit of flexibility and cooperation will characterize our efforts to address the numerous and complex issues that lie ahead in the ocean and for fisheries.

Thank you.