An estimated $40 billion worth of oil and gas is at stake in a maritime dispute between East Timor and Australia. The countries are set to tear up a controversial treaty that some say has held them back from defining a permanent boundary in the Timor Sea. 

For East Timor, one of the world’s poorest nations, a new boundary brings the prospect of increased oil profits, and with it, economic development. Residents also say it will complete their journey to sovereignty. Australian officials have maintained that the current bilateral treaties have been beneficial for both sides. 

The countries have a complicated history. While Australia has been credited for supporting East Timor’s push for self-determination from Indonesia in 2002, it also has been criticised for taking advantage of the newly independent nation.

The two nations have been in a holding pattern since 2006, when they signed a treaty that would put off boundary negotiations for 50 years. These stalled talks have fueled discontent among many East Timorese, who accuse Australia of shortchanging them of billions in oil and gas revenues.

East Timor adheres to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would draw a median line equidistant between the countries to establish a maritime boundary. They argue this could put the more oil-rich territory, known as “The Greater Sunrise” region in the smaller nation’s control. But just two months before East Timor gained independence, Australia withdrew from that convention, leaving it free from international arbitration on the matter.

We look at the impact these new negotiations could have on the countries.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta
Former President, East Timor

Tom Clark @TomHRLC
Spokesperson, Timor Sea Justice Campaign

Juvinal Dias @Juvinal
Activist, Researcher for Economic and Natural Resources, Lao Hamutuk

Marc Moszkowski
President, Deep Gulf Inc.

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