Statement at a Joint Debate on Agenda Items 74(a) and (b) on Oceans and the Law of the Sea

Emily Pierce
Counselor for Legal Affairs
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
December 10, 2019


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 – 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.

Among the places where freedom of the seas is most threatened is the South China Sea. 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 regime that has enabled the region to prosper.

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.

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.

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 opportunity for the global community to identify key ocean issues and develop constructive ways to address them.

In particular, we appreciate that this year’s resolution recognizes many of the robust global and regional efforts to combat marine debris, which imposes significant social and economic costs and threatens marine ecosystems.

We are also pleased that this year’s resolution supports the “UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development” by highlighting the contributions of the 2019 informal consultative process on oceans and the law of the sea toward planning for the Decade, which will begin in 2020. Ocean science, ocean observing, and ocean exploration are key for understanding the full breadth of the ocean’s bounty.

Turning to sustainable fisheries, the United States values deeply the important work being done throughout the world on sustainable fisheries management, which helps support economic activity and healthy marine ecosystems.

We wish to call particular attention to new language in this year’s resolution related to enhancing fishing vessel safety, improving labor conditions, and addressing illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, including encouraging collaboration between the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Labor Organization and the International Maritime Organization. This year’s resolution also recognizes the valuable contributions of women to the fisheries sector as well as the challenges they face.

We would also like to draw attention to paragraphs that emphasize the importance of effective performance reviews of regional fisheries management organizations, which reflect the productive discussions held at the fourteenth round of informal consultations of States Parties (ICSP) to the UN Fish Stocks Agreement. We look forward to continuing substantive discussions at next year’s ICSP on “Implementation of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management,” as well as preparing for the next session of the resumed Review Conference for the Agreement. Next year we will also focus on reviewing actions as called for by the General Assembly to address the impacts of bottom fishing on vulnerable marine ecosystems and the long-term sustainability of deep-sea fish stocks, with a view to ensuring full implementation and strengthening commitments where necessary.

With regard to both resolutions, we refer you to our remarks delivered on November 21, 2019, regarding our position with respect to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, technology transfer, the Paris Agreement and climate change, as well as reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Before concluding, we would like to congratulate the Government of Norway for hosting another successful Our Ocean conference, at which participants announced commitments worth more than 63 billion dollars to address key issues facing the ocean. The United States announced 23 new commitments worth approximately 1.21 billion dollars to promote sustainable fisheries, combat marine debris, and support marine science, observation, and exploration. We look forward to the 2020 Our Ocean conference in Palau, as well as the 2021 conference in Panama.

We would also like to express our appreciation for the important leadership of Ambassador 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 IGC continues and hope to have a broadly supported result that takes into account the views of all delegations.

We would like to thank the coordinators of the informal consultations on both resolutions –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; and Andreas Kravik of Norway, who patiently guided Member States through a challenging but ultimately constructive and successful negotiation. We would also like to thank the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea for their expertise and hard work throughout the consultations on both resolutions. In particular, we would like to thank the Director of the Division for her tireless and exemplary leadership and service.

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 for the ocean and for fisheries.

Thank you.