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China Seen as Key Player in Talks on UN Ocean Protection Treaty

Genetic resources and finance are tipped to be key issues on a legally binding UN agreement to protect the world’s oceans

China has ratified the WTO agreement to cut subsidies to its fishing vessels, but more states now need to endorse the WTO deal before it can take effect.
China has the world's largest deepwater fishing fleet by far, with nearly 3,000 ships. Beijing has ratified the WTO agreement to cut subsidies to its vessels, but many more states now need to endorse the WTO deal before it can take effect. File photo: AFP.


China is likely to be a key player in talks in New York this week on a new ocean protection treaty, and finance will be a pivotal issue.

Delegations from a mass of countries are trying to hammer out a legally binding treaty that green groups say is needed to safeguard global biodiversity.

An earlier round of talks on the new United Nations ocean conservation treaty were suspended in August after countries were unable to reach an agreement on financing.

Sharing the proceeds of “marine genetic resources” and the establishment of ocean environmental impact assessment rules for development were also major sticking points.


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Experts familiar with the negotiations said major parties have now moved closer together on key issues as new talks begin, though compromises were still being sought.

“There seems to be an appetite to actually finalise the treaty now,” said Jessica Battle, an ocean expert at the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

“There are several countries who are looking for some concessions to be made, but at the end of the day what is really important is that the treaty doesn’t get too watered down,” she said, noting that one attempt to exclude fishing from the treaty had already been defeated.

The success of the talks, scheduled to run until March 3, still “hinge on the finance question”, said Li Shuo, global policy advisor at Greenpeace, and China is set to be a major player in the negotiations, especially when it comes to bringing other developing nations on board.


30 by 30 goal

According to Greenpeace, 11 million square kilometres (4.25 million square miles) of ocean must be protected every year between now and the end of the decade if a target of protecting 30% of the world’s land and sea by 2030 – known as “30 by 30” – is to be met.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was working hard to achieve “a high-quality agreement that takes conservation and sustainable use into account and can be generally accepted by the international community.”

How to share the proceeds from ocean industrial development, including the use of marine genetic resources in pharmaceuticals and other industries, will also be a crucial factor for China, which is already home to six of the 10 biggest global companies that run high seas fishing fleets.

“Genetic resources and the issue of finance will be the end game,” Greenpeace’s Li said.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard





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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years.


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