The Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague has ruled that it is competent to continue with the conciliation process between Timor Leste and Australia over the sea border dispute in the Timor Sea.
Timor Leste initiated the case in April, asking PCA to help end the dispute between the two countries that involves sharing arrangements for several gas fields in the Timor Gap. So far all negotiations have failed.
Australia argued that PCA had no jurisdiction in the case as Australia had already signed a treaty with Timor Leste ruling out recourse to the courts.
Lawyers for the Australian government also had argued that it has previously initiated talks with Timor Leste through an exchange of letters in 2003 to try and resolve the dispute.
However PCA’s five-member conciliation commission said the exchange of letters did not constitute an agreement because the exchange was not legally binding.
Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs now says that Australia accepts the commission’s decision and will continue to engage in good faith moving into the next phase of the conciliation process.
PCA said the dispute could be settled under the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, rather than the 2006 Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea treaty, which covers the Greater Sunrise gas-condensate fields in the Timor Gap.
Talks between the two countries will now continue over the next year with the meetings to be held largely in a confidential setting. PCA will be involved to create a positive relationship between the two sides.