U.S. needs to ratify UNCLOS now to secure rights to deep seabed and the vast deposits of rare earth metals
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At the same time, the Chinese are accelerating their own deep seabed mining efforts. They have increased government funding for seabed mining, and the government announced a $75 million national deep sea technology base in 2010. China is also expanding its engagement with the ISA, where it secured one of the four ISA exploration licenses issued in 2011. The Chinese can boast more than 20 years of sustained technical and political efforts to develop the deep seabed, funded by the government.
A close look at the map of claims in the Clarion Clipperton Zone (CCZ), a location in the Pacific Ocean that is rich with rare earths, shows active claims by China, Japan and Russia “planting their flags,” so to speak. Recently published reports have indicated that the Chinese are actively surveying other claim areas in the CCZ, including those of the U.S. Russia, Tonga and Nauru were also granted deep seabed mining licenses by the ISA last year. At last count, the ISA has 17 pending or completed applications for exploration – up from just eight in 2010.
Only ratification of the Law of the Sea Convention and engagement with the ISA will provide a sufficient mechanism to secure international recognition of U.S.-based claims and rights. Manufacturers and consumers will benefit from a more diverse and competitive market for rare earths, and deep seabed mining is an opportunity for the U.S. to quickly diversify its rare earth sources.
The development of deep seabed claims is incredibly expensive. Companies in the U.S. are reluctant to invest heavily in deep seabed mining because of the risk that their activities would not withstand a legal challenge since the U.S. is not a party to the Convention. Conversely, foreign companies, because their governments have joined the Convention, have access to the international bodies that grant the legal claims to operate in the deep seabed area. The U.S. cannot represent the interests of its companies in those bodies.