Wellington: A long-awaited deal to create the world`s largest marine sanctuary in Antarctica appears to have survived a last-second obstacle the US government shutdown and could be approved next week.
The US, New Zealand and other countries have sought a sanctuary in the pristine waters of the Ross Sea for the past decade, and there are hopes that previous objectors Russia and Ukraine will agree to a new, smaller proposal when the nations that regulate Antarctic fishing meet next week in Hobart, Australia.
Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry joined his counterparts from other nations in calling for the sanctuary to proceed.
At the time, the US apparently had suspended travel plans for its delegation, according to Gerry Leape, a senior international policy expert at Pew Charitable Trusts.
David Edginton, a spokesman with the US Embassy in Wellington, said yesterday he was unable to comment on whether the US delegation will be traveling to Australia.
But yesterday night, Congress passed legislation to avert a US debt default and end a government shutdown, closing an epic political drama that threatened to rattle the world economy.
Leape said earlier that the suspension could be lifted on short notice, either if the shutdown ends or if the delegation gets special permission to travel. Under normal circumstances, he said, the delegation would already be in Australia and working its diplomatic channels in pre-meetings.
Jointly proposed by the US and New Zealand, the 1.34 million-square-kilometre (517,000-square-mile) sanctuary would be twice the size of Texas and the world`s largest stretch of protected ocean.
Progress on the sanctuary has already been painfully slow.
The nations that make decisions about Antarctic fishing 24 countries plus the European Union do so only by unanimous agreement.
A proposal for a larger sanctuary failed in July when Russia and Ukraine, which have fishing interests in the region, raised objections.
The US and New Zealand revised their plans, reducing the sanctuary`s proposed size by 40 per cent. Environmental groups including Pew criticised the changes initially but have come to embrace the current proposal.
Next week the Antarctic nations also plan to consider a separate proposal to create a series of smaller marine reserves in East Antarctica. Those areas would come with less stringent protections than those in the Ross Sea proposal.