Ottawa: Canada aims to quickly settle Arctic border disputes with the United States and Denmark, it has announced in its first foreign policy statement on the far north.
Clear boundaries are essential for economic development and better environmental stewardship of a region believed to contain vast oil and gas reserves, the document said.
"Making progress on outstanding boundary issues will be a top priority," Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon told a press conference late yesterday.
Canada will meet a 2013 deadline for submitting evidence in support of its claim to undersea territories under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, he said.
"We are also beginning to engage with the United States and Denmark on the remaining disputed boundaries in the Beaufort Sea and Hans Island," he added, after Ottawa for years ignored other nations' requests to settle disputes.
The UN convention stipulates that any coastal state can claim undersea territory 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) from their shoreline and exploit the natural resources within that zone.
Nations can also extend that limit to up to 350 nautical miles from their coast if they can provide scientific proof that the undersea continental plate is a natural extension of their territory.
Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States claim overlapping parts of the region believed to be rich in hydrocarbons, and are rushing to gather evidence in support of their respective claims.
Interest in the region has soared with the acceleration of Arctic ice melt in recent years. Shrinking ice has opened up sea navigation, and could give oil rigs improved access to the sea floor.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made sovereignty a priority of his government, boosting Canada's military presence in the far north, and visiting the region each summer to assert Canadian sovereignty.
He leaves for his seventh trip to the far north on Monday, telling reporters yesterday that "Canada's sovereignty over what is our north... is non-negotiable”.
The foreign policy statement, however, signals to other nations that Canada is now willing to advance a shared agenda for the Arctic.
In this spirit, US and Canadian coast guard ships started this month jointly mapping the shape of the seafloor in disputed areas and determining sediment thickness.
First Published: Saturday, August 21, 2010, 09:21