Remarks on General Assembly Resolutions on Oceans and Law of the Sea and on Sustainable Fisheries

Margarita Palau-Hernandez
Public Delegate
United States
December 10, 2018



Thank you, Madam President.

The United States 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 – the universal and unified character of which is emphasized in this resolution. As we see 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. In this regard, we call on all States to 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 peacefully settle disputes in accordance with international law.

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

In particular, we are pleased that this year’s resolution gives further support to the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development” by deciding on the theme of ocean science for the 2019 informal consultative process – or “ICP” – on oceans and the law of the sea. The 2019 ICP meeting will provide an excellent venue for soliciting ideas and feedback from the international community on critical gaps in our knowledge that the decade of ocean science can fill, allowing us to seek science-based solutions for sustaining benefits from the ocean.

We are also pleased that this year’s resolution recognizes many of the significant global and regional efforts to reduce plastic in the ocean. Marine debris – largely composed of plastic waste from land-based sources – imposes significant social and economic costs, threatening human well-being, food security, and marine ecosystems. We support the resolution’s continued encouragement of all stakeholders to cooperate on environmentally sound and pragmatic measures to prevent and reduce marine debris.

One of the most important aspects of this year’s resolution is not related to text that was added, but instead to text that was updated, reorganized, and in some cases retired. We thank all delegations for the concerted and serious effort to make this massive resolution more reader-friendly and more relevant. We look forward to continuing this work next year.

Madam President, we would like to congratulate the Government of Indonesia for hosting another highly successful Our Ocean conference. The Our Ocean conferences are an unparalleled opportunity for all stakeholders – the business community, the science and tech community, governments, NGOs, and funders – to address a common goal: collaborative management and sustainable use of our ocean and its resources. Building on the success of previous Our Ocean conferences hosted by Chile, the European Union, and the United States, participants at this year’s conference in Bali announced commitments worth more than 10 billion dollars to address key issues facing the ocean, including combating marine debris, advancing maritime security, and promoting sustainable fisheries. We look forward to the 2019 Our Ocean conference in Norway, as well as the 2020 conference in Palau and the 2021 conference in Panama.

We would also like to express our appreciation for the important leadership of Ms. Rena Lee of Singapore in her role as president of the intergovernmental conference on an international instrument regarding the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction. We look forward to working with delegations as the ICG continues and hope to have a broadly supported result that takes into account the views of all delegations.

Madam President, I now turn to the sustainable fisheries resolution.

We deeply value the important work being done throughout the world on sustainable fisheries management, which helps support economic activity and healthy marine ecosystems around the world. This resolution plays an important role in highlighting achievements and priorities for future progress, including as it relates to achieving sustainable fisheries, implementing international fisheries agreements, combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and strengthening fisheries governance.

This year’s resolution includes several important additions, including related to the recent conclusion of the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean and the work being done to support implementation of the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing. We would also like to note the paragraphs related to the thirteenth round of informal Consultations of States Parties, ICSP, which focused on the “science-policy interface,” and to thank Mr. Fabio Hazin of Brazil for his leadership and again chairing the ICSP. We think the new approach for the ICSP – where we focus the agenda on a specific issue arising from the implementation of the UN Fish Stocks Agreement – should facilitate more substantive and constructive discussions. We look forward to the ICSP that will be convened under a similar format next year and encourage robust participation in that meeting.

While we strongly support the vast majority of this resolution, the United States continues to have significant concerns with certain paragraphs in the resolution, particularly those pertaining to the World Trade Organization and trade negotiations occurring outside the mandate of the United Nations. Language in UNGA on matters of trade policy has no standing for the United States, including in its work at the WTO.

In particular, the United States notes that Paragraph 124 contains outdated references to the Doha Development Agenda, DDA. WTO Members at the Tenth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in December 2015 did not reaffirm the DDA, WTO Members are no longer negotiating under that framework, and thus the reference to Doha has no standing here. The United States has also made clear its opposition to paragraph 125, as well as other paragraphs that reference WTO and market access.

It is our view that the United Nations must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions, including trade negotiations, and must not involve itself in decisions and actions underway in other forums, including at the WTO. The UN is not the appropriate venue for these discussions, and there should be no expectation or misconception that the United States would heed language negotiated at the General Assembly on these issues. This includes calls that undermine incentives for innovation, such as technology transfer that is not voluntary and on mutually agreed terms, including in the preamble and paragraphs 222 and 229.

We regret consensus could not be reached on the need to change these trade-related paragraphs to ensure this resolution remains relevant and focused on sustainable fisheries priorities under the mandate of the United Nations. We would like to request that Member States work constructively with us to address concerns with trade-related language in this resolution next year.

Our decision to join consensus on this resolution is based on our strong support for the vast majority of the non-trade-related language in this resolution. It also reflects the importance the United States places on sustainable fisheries as an effective steward of the nation’s marine resources, responsible flag state, and leader in Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and other international fora. The United States looks forward to continuing to work with other nations to address overfishing, combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, promote a level playing field, and advance the key issues in sustainable fisheries management highlighted in this resolution.

Madam President, with respect to both the sustainable fisheries and the oceans resolutions:

With regard to references to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in these resolutions, we addressed our concerns regarding such references in a general explanation of position delivered on November 8 in the Second Committee and in an explanation of position regarding the resolution entitled “Sport for Development and Peace” under agenda item 12, adopted on December 3.

With regard to references to the Paris Agreement and climate change in these resolutions, we addressed our concerns regarding such references in our general explanation of position delivered on November 8 in the Second Committee. We note that the Administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it is eligible to do so, consistent with the terms of the Agreement, unless suitable terms for re-engagement are identified.

In conclusion, we would like to thank Ms. Natalie Morris-Sharma of Singapore for her outstanding coordination of the oceans resolution, and in particular for her encouragement of efforts to update and reorganize the resolution. We also greatly appreciate the tireless efforts of the coordinator of the informal consultations on the sustainable fisheries resolution, Andreas Kravik of Norway, to effectively guide Member States through this challenging negotiation. We also would like to thank the Director and staff of the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea and the interpreters for their expertise, hard work, and patience throughout the consultations on both resolutions.

Finally, we would like to express our appreciation for delegations’ hard work and cooperation in negotiating both resolutions. It is our hope that this spirit of cooperation will characterize our efforts to address the numerous and complex issues that lie ahead.

Thank you, Madam President.