Cook Islands Negotiating Economic Zone Borders With Neighbors

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Leaders push for boundaries to be recognized formally in region

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, June 20, 2012) – Cabinet is making strides in a decade-long dispute with Kiribati, Niue and Tokelau regarding the boundaries of the Cook Islands’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Deputy Prime Minister Tom Marsters said in Parliament yesterday that government expects to legally seal the deal at the Pacific Islands Leaders Forum in August.

In the meantime, Parliament has passed a short bill to amend the Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone Act 1977 "to establish a continuous zone adjacent to the territorial seas and in the exercise of the sovereign rights of the Cook Islands to make provisions for customs, immigration, fiscal and sanitary laws and regulations."

"This act is to ensure our boundaries are absolutely determined according to law," Marsters said yesterday. "The end result is we expect at the Pacific Forum Leaders meeting in late August to sign off on the legal instruments concerning this bill that we’re talking about today."

He said the amendment bill represents a step further in a 10-year negotiation between multiple governments, and noted that the president of Kiribati has assured Prime Minister Henry Puna that he intends to follow through with formalizing an agreement in August.

"This is an amendment to the principal act but the impact is huge, I might say," Marsters said of the bill that passed yesterday. "This has been a long outstanding issue with (Kiribati) in the north and Niue and Tokelau in the west.

"Last month a team from the Cook Islands appeared before the UN committee on deep sea mining. This was to do with the application we had before the UN to extend our continental shelf in the north. (The second hearing) of this application comes up in December when another delegation will front up before the UN committee to argue our case concerning the application."

If all goes according to plan, he said, the Cook Islands’ continental shelf will be extended and "at that point our total EEZ in terms of ocean and floor will be about 2.5 million square kilometers."

The amendment bill passed "smooth, like the Nikao road, without amendment," Teina Bishop said at the conclusion of yesterday’s Parliamentary sitting.

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