From March 11-15th 2013, the Kingdom of Tonga is to host a regional workshop on “Law and Contract Negotiations for Deep Sea Minerals” in Nuku’alofa, on behalf of the SPC-EU Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project.
The Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is funded by the European Union and managed by SOPAC, the Applied Geoscience & Technology Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. The project includes 15 Pacific Island Countries: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Hannah Lily, Legal Adviser for the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project, says a main objective of the Tonga workshop is to provide government officials with the knowledge, skills and confidence to negotiate effectively with well-resourced deep sea mining companies. Ms. Lily says the Project stresses the importance for countries to put in place robust law and regulatory mechanisms for the national management of deep sea minerals before any negotiations take place.
“We strongly recommend that countries have these mechanisms in place before any individual project negotiations commence. Dedicated seabed minerals legislation will assist the country to meet its obligations under international law, such as the protection of the marine environment. It will also provide clarity and stability to that country’s operating environment and what it expects from mineral companies.”
“Seabed mineral resources represent an exciting new economic opportunity for Pacific Island States. But, in order to make the most of this opportunity, governments will need to find responsible exploration and mining companies, and work to set terms that provide sufficient protection and financial return to the country,” she says.
Ms. Lily says one of the main objectives of the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is to enable countries to make informed decisions about whether or not to give out exploration and mining licences for their deep sea minerals resources.
“If those licences are issued it is critical that they contain terms that protect the country from environmental damage, protect the people from impacts on their livelihoods, and ensure a proper financial return that will be collected and managed responsibly,” she says.
Mr. Taaniela Kula, Deputy Secretary for Tonga’s Natural Resources at the Ministry of Lands, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, believes the upcoming workshop will be critical for public administrators throughout the region.
“I think the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is already helping many Pacific Island Seabed Mineral Authorities to build much need skills in areas such as international law, contract negotiations, geological and technical knowledge, environmental management and a greater understanding of potentially critical socio-economic issues related to deep sea mining.”
“The workshop here in Tonga is extremely important because, if government administrations don’t build these important skills, they may overlook critical aspects of exploration and mining agreements that could lead to possible disputes after any contracts have been already been signed,” he says.
“By building these skills will be able to build greater confidence among our administrators because we will know exactly what terms we are signing up for. These skills are obviously critical when you are sitting around a negotiation table with a well-resourced company where there may already be the perception that they have great status, wealth and access to a lot of the technical knowledge about deep sea mineral resources,” he says.
Mr. Akuila Tawake, Manager of the Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project, says the regional initiative has been specifically designed to operate as an independent adviser. “The role of the project is to provide countries with the relevant information and advice they need to make informed decisions whether they want allow deep sea mining within their national jurisdictions,” he says.
Although the 4-year Pacific Deep Sea Minerals Project is scheduled to end in 2014, Mr. Tawake says Pacific Island countries will still need to have the capacity to deal with this important resource management issue over the next 20 to 30 years.
“We are trying to assist the Pacific Island countries to learn from the mistakes that have been made in other industries like fisheries and on land mining. But ultimately, after the Project has provided its advice and support, it is up to the countries to decide whether or not they want to proceed with mining their deep sea mineral resources,” he says.
“Over the last two years we have done our best to engage with all stakeholders in each of the countries. Across the countries we have been holding “National Deep Sea Minerals Stakeholder Consultation Workshops” where we invite all levels of stakeholders including community leaders and NGOs.
“For the Tonga workshop we are inviting representatives from governments, civil society, mining companies and some experts from outside the region. This holistic approach signifies that we are serious about taking an inclusive approach to work with all stakeholders interested in deep sea minerals in the Pacific,” he says.
Teina MacKenzie, from the Te Ipukarea Society in the Cook Islands, is one of the stakeholders representing interested civil society organisations at the Tonga workshop. In September 2012 the Te Ipukarea Society collaborated with a wide range of non-government and academic institutions to pass Resolution 79 at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea, which focuses on the protection of deep-ocean ecosystems and biodiversity from the threats of sea bed mining.
Because of the rapidly growing commercial interest in deep sea minerals Ms. MacKenzie says it’s even more critical for civil society organisations to get directly involved in this process as quickly as possible. She insists that governments must ensure there is comprehensive stakeholder engagement before licenses and contracts are even negotiated.
"Those who have been involved with the issue of seabed minerals mining recognize it is a pioneering activity and there are still many unknown factors surrounding its many impacts.
“The argument has been made that the lack of data and information should not hinder development, but there is enough reason and logic to maintain that proceeding with caution is paramount. It must be a priority for individual countries to obtain further scientific and technical data and to research possible impacts. This should supersede the necessity to focus on enticing mining companies to do business in their country," she says.
However, Ms. Mackenzie believes there is an urgent need for all conscientious non-state actors to be prepared if their governments decide to proceed with mining for seabed minerals.
“We need to be involved to make sure that legislation is robust and there are no loopholes. It’s important that communities in all the countries really engage in the process of developing the legislation, frameworks and policies in each of their own countries. Transparency will come when the communities really understand what the issues are. We all need to be a part of this conversation,” she says.
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