CMATS going, TST for now, Maritime Boundaries coming ....

CMATS is the treaty known as  "Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea" [2006], and the TST is the "Timor Sea Treaty" [2002].

Today a joint statement was released by the Government of Australia, the Government of Timor-Leste and the Permanent Court of Arbitration on behalf of the UN Conciliation Commission.

This is the first joint statement to come out of the conciliation process so far and is a significant one. Available on the Australian Foreign Minister website here.

There is some careful language around what presents as a commitment by the current Government of Australia to proceed with negotiations of a permanent maritime boundary with Timor-Leste.

So there are qualifiers of time – “for the further conduct of the conciliation process” which is expected to end in September 2017, context – “under the auspices of the Commission”, and modality – part of a secret agreed “integrated package of measures”.

Still – this is something new and important.

Also significant is the announcement of the Timorese Government’s intention to terminate CMATS and more particularly Australia’s intention to accept this without contesting. An important point is their acceptance that three months from the initiation of the termination that CMATS is really dead.

The CMATS treaty had extraordinary provisions in its Article 12 that could in effect bring it to life again even after its termination. So called “Zombie” or “Phoenix” clauses. But the Australian Government has in this joint statement said that they have agreed that “no provision of the Treaty will survive termination. All provisions of the treaty will cease to have effect three months after the delivery of Timor-Leste’s notification.”

The Timor Sea Treaty will remain in place after the termination to manage current commercial activities in the Timor Sea.

So it seems the decks are being cleared for maritime boundary negotiations to commence in earnest.

How far will we get by September? Will it all grind to a halt once the Commission process is over? Is there any indication from the Government of Australia that they will respect international law jurisprudence and the 3-step method as the basis for proceeding?

Lots of questions – but for now what seems like a good day for Timor-Leste.