The Timor Sea Treaty establishes the Joint Petroleum Development Area or ‘JPDA’, which is a temporary petroleum revenue sharing area. The perimeter of the JPDA does not determine maritime boundaries for Timor-Leste.
The Treaty states clearly that it is without prejudice to a final maritime boundary between Timor-Leste and Australia. The Treaty terminates once there is a permanent maritime delimitation between Timor-Leste and Australia.
Legal advice received by Timor-Leste from some of the world’s most prominent maritime boundary lawyers has confirmed that the Treaty will not hinder Timor-Leste’s attempts to obtain maritime boundaries consistent with international law.
On 20 May 2002, prior to the signing of the Treaty, Prime Minister Alkatiri declared in the first sitting of National Parliament that the Treaty is an interim administrative arrangement for the development of petroleum resources and is not a maritime boundary delimitation.
The Act, which is consistent with international law, claims for Timor-Leste an exclusive economic zone and seabed entitlement extending 200 nautical miles from Timor-Leste’s coast.
Australia has similar legislation. As a result, a large part of the Timor Sea, including the Greater Sunrise field, is the subject of overlapping claims.
On 21 March 2002, Australia withdrew from the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in respect of its seabed jurisdiction. This withdrawal appears to limit the ability of Timor Leste to obtain a decision on its maritime boundaries based on international law from the International Court of Justice.
The preference of Timor-Leste has always been for maritime boundaries to be determined by negotiation, not litigation. On 31 May 2002, the Australian Government confirmed its willingness to begin maritime boundary negotiations with Timor-Leste, and invited Timor-Leste to make specific proposals in this regard.
The Timor-Leste government expects maritime boundary negotiations to begin in the near future.
International law requires neighboring states to reach peaceful agreement on maritime boundaries. Permanent boundaries are an essential hallmark of nationhood and the right to self-determination.
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