Mining the Seabed, Enclosing the Area: Proprietary Knowledge and the Geopolitics of the Extractive Frontier Beyond National Jurisdiction

Authors: Anna Zalik*, York University
Topics: Political Geography, Natural Resources, Development
Keywords: oceans, mercantilism, deep sea mining, industrial capital
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Over the past fifteen years the International Seabed Authority (ISA), the United Nations agency charged with regulating extraction from the ocean floor and seabed in areas beyond national jurisdiction- a zone referred to as the ‘Area’ - has assigned exploration contracts for deep sea mineral exploration for specific zones under its purview. Pressures have mounted in recent years for a rapid roll out of an ISA mineral exploitation regime. Under international law, the deep seabed pertains to the entire global community under the principle of the common heritage of (hu)mankind. Parastatal and private firms granted rights by the UN and/or their home states for exploration prior to the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), are among the actors in these contracts. They include US firms, notably Lockheed Martin, which participated in deep-sea mining consortia in the 1970s and 80s. The paper argues that the neo-mercantilist dynamics surrounding ISA negotiations manifest how the geopolitics of proprietary data and political economy of finance constitute the deep seabed. The power certain states and firms hold in shaping the ISA exploitation regime arises in part from the contested legal position of ocean frontiers beyond state jurisdiction.

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