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Meaning and Relevance of Exclusive economic zone under International Law

An exclusive economic zone is basically an area of coastal water and seabed within a certain distance of a country's coastline, to which the country claims exclusive rights for fishing, drilling, and other economic activities. The principle of freedom of the seas is recognized in the seventeenth century as one of the oldest principles of international law. This concept of freedom was ideally suited to the requirements of commerce and economic progress and was the sea- going equivalent of the liberal principles of free trade and free enterprise.

The concept of the exclusive economic zone is one of the most important pillars of the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The regime of the exclusive economic zone is perhaps the most complex and multifaceted in the whole Convention. The accommodation of diverse issues contributed substantially to the acceptance of the concept and to the Convention as a whole.

The 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea is often referred to as a package. The metaphor is derived from a decision made during the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea that the Convention would be adopted in toto, as a package deal. No single issue would be adopted until all issues were settled. This decision provided an essential mechanism for reconciling the varied interests of the states participating in the Conference. If a state's interests in one issue were not fully satisfied, it could look at the whole package and find other issues where its interests were more fully represented, thereby mitigating the effects of the first. Thus, the Convention became an elaborately-constructed document built on trade-offs, large and small.

What is Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)?

An Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources ,including energy production from water and wind.1 It stretches from the baseline out to 200 Nautical miles2(nmi) from its coast. In colloquial usage, the term may include the continental shelf. The term does not include either the territorial sea or the continental shelf beyond the 200 nmi limit. The difference between the territorial sea and the exclusive economic zone is that the first confers full sovereignty over the waters, whereas the second is merely a sovereign right which refers to the coastal state's rights below the surface of the sea. The surface waters, as can be seen in the map, are international waters.3
Evolution of the concept of EEZ

The idea of allotting nations EEZs to give them more control of maritime affairs outside territorial limits gained acceptance in late 20th century. The concept of EEZ was initiated by Kenya in 1972 at the Geneva Convention ofthe UN. The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, which first met in Caracas in the summer of 1974 and was followed by a second session in Geneva in May 1974, and three further sessions in New York, was characterized by the failure of the international community to agree on any precise legal regime for the oceans.

One of the suggestions that was regarded as likely to form a basis for agreement was the concept of the exclusive economic zone which a number of nations have supported in one form or another, albeit with great divergences of emphasis concerning the rights of coastal States and the rights of other nations within the zone and later after all the debate it was finally adopted in the year 1982 on the third UN conference on the law of the sea.

Rights, Jurisdiction and duties of the coastal state in the exclusive economic zone (Article 56)

  1. In the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State has:
    (a) sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources, whether living or non-living, of the waters superjacent to the seabed and of the seabed and its subsoil, and with regard to other activities for the economic exploitation and exploration of the zone, such as the production of energy from the water, currents and winds;

    (b) jurisdiction as provided for in the relevant provisions of this Convention with regard to:
    (i) the establishment and use of artificial islands, installations and structures;
    (ii) marine scientific research;
    (iii) the protection and preservation of the marine environment;

    (c) other rights and duties provided for in this Convention.
  2. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, the coastal State shall have due regard to the rights and duties of other States and shall act in a manner compatible with the provisions of this Convention.
     
  3. The rights set out in this article with respect to the seabed and subsoil shall be exercised in accordance with Part VI.

Rights and duties of other States in the exclusive economic zone (Article 584): 4

  1. In the exclusive economic zone, all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy, subject to the relevant provisions of this Convention, the freedoms referred to in article 87 of navigation and over flight and of the laying of submarine cables and pipelines, and other internationally lawful uses of the sea related to these freedoms, such as those associated with the operation of ships, aircraft and submarine cables and pipelines, and compatible with the other provisions of this Convention.
     
  2. Articles 88 to 115 and other pertinent rules of international law apply to the exclusive economic zone in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.
     
  3. In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part

Importance of EEZ

The importance of exclusive economic zones under international law is very much like:
  • The ocean is a major hub of economic activity. Oceans waters serve as a source of food and valuable minerals, as a vast highway for commerce, and provide a place for both recreation and waste disposal. Increasingly, people are turning to the oceans for their food supply either by direct consumption or indirectly by harvesting fish that is then processes for livestock feed.
  • water is processed to extract commercially valuable minerals such as salt, bromine, and magnesium.
  • In a few arid regions of the world, such as Ascension Island, Kuwait, and Israel, ocean water is desalinated to produce fresh water.

Internationally Shared Fishery Resources

The establishment of the EEZ brought with it the shared fish stock problem. Two broad, non- mutually exclusive, categories of shared stocks have been identified as transboundary stocks (EEZ to EEZ) and straddling fish stocks (both within the EEZ and the adjacent high seas).

Under the 1982 United Nations (UN) Convention, coastal states sharing a transboundary resource are admonished to enter into negotiations with respect to cooperative management of the resource. Importantly, however, they are not required to reach an agreement. If the relevant coastal states negotiate in good faith, but are unable to reach an agreement, then each coastal state is to manage its share of the resource (i.e., that part occurring within its EEZ), in accordance with the relevant rights and duties laid down by the 1982 UN Convention.

Indian Position on EEZ

The Maritime zones Act of 1976 under section 7 provides that the exclusive economic zone of India, is an area beyond and adjacent to the territorial waters, and the limit of such zone is 200 nautical miles from the baseline from where territorial waters is measured. Para (2) of section 7 has laid down that the limit of the EEZ may be altered, after having regard to international limit of EEZ, by notification in the official gazette5. By the early eighties India obtained a wide EEZ of about 2.0134 million square km in the sea all along 7500 km long coastline.

The living and non living resources in this zone measured about two - third of country and the process of trading and transport facilities navigated through this Area. Millions of people living along the coastline are directly influenced by oceanography of the EEZ.

India has an exclusive right for the purpose of exploring and exploiting the natural resources within its EEZ. However the above rights can be exercised by it peacefully and without interruption by other neighbouring states, only when its maritime boundary is delineated. It is to be noted that its sea borders with most of its neighbours are delineated except the two states - Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the absence of any delineated maritime boundary line between India and Pakistan, a dispute arose in 1987 over the kutch - Karachi coast. While Pakistan claims the boundary lies along the southern bank of the creek, India claims that it lies mid stream. So it is desirable for the two states the dispute peacefully by negotiation so that it may not flare up.

Conclusion:
Finally, it is concluded that:
  • The regime for the exclusive economic zone is sui generis. Under it the coastal states and other states have specific competences. The legal regime of the exclusive economic zone is thus different from those of the territorial sea and the high seas. It is a zone which incorporates certain characteristics of both regimes but belongs to neither. The zone represents a politico-legal compromise and its various elements constitute a complete unit whose structural harmony and functional balance will be destroyed if it were to be assimilated into any pre-existing concept.5
     
  • In the exclusive economic zone a coastal state has been given sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources. In exercising its rights and performing its duties under the Convention, the coastal state is obliged to have due regard to the rights and duties of other states and to act in a manner compatible with the Convention (Article 56). The coastal state has been given considerable discretion in the management of the zone; however, the Convention also imposes specific management responsibilities on the coastal state, especially as concerns the living resources of the zone. In the light of these management responsibilities, a coastal state which has claimed an exclusive economic zone cannot pursue a policy of inaction with respect to its living resources.
     
  • The Convention refers to specific matters which a coastal state should take into account in the management of the zone. It contains provisions requiring a state to enter into agreements with other states, either bilaterally, subregionally or regionally. These references in some cases serve to highlight the interests of other states in the zone or to create preferences in their favour and they were essential elements in the compromises which made the concept of the exclusive economic zone generally acceptable. They now require to be implemented in good faith by all concerned.
     
  • The regime of the exclusive economic zone is clearly a revolutionary legal concept which evolved very quickly. In about a 30-year time span, an ocean regime has emerged from many diverse ideas and interests and has found universal acceptance establishing the unlikely proposition that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

References:
  • Dr. H O Agarwal, International law and Human Rights(Central Law Publication, Allahabad, 22st edn. Reprint,2019).
  • https://www.moes.gov.in/programmes/geoscientific-studies-Indian-exclusive-economic- zone
  • https://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos
End-Notes:
  1. Part V – Exclusive Economic Zone, Article 55, “Law of the Sea, United Nations”.
  2. Two hundred nautical miles is equivalent to 370.4 km.
  3. Part V – Exclusive Economic Zone, Articles 55, 56, Law of the Sea. United Nations.
  4. Part V – Exclusive Economic Zone, Articles 58, “Law of the Sea, United Nations”.
  5. Dr. H O Agarwal =, International law and Human Rights,148(Central Law Publication, Allahabad, 22st edn. Reprint, 2019)  

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