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  • The 2018 Timor Sea Treaty concluded in New York on 6 March following conciliation brought by Timor-Leste under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
  • The Treaty delimits for the first time a permanent maritime boundary in the Timor Sea, replacing previous joint petroleum development arrangements.
  • Timor-Leste gains 100 per cent revenue from much of the previously disputed area with the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field subject to a ‘special regime’ under which Timor gains at least 70 per cent of upstream revenue.
  • The Treaty has rightly been praised as a significant breakthrough for both Australia and Timor-Leste that has the potential to repair a damaged bilateral relationship and provide legal certainty for the Timor Sea, however some uncertainties remain.

On 6 March 2018, Australia and Timor Leste signed the Treaty Between Australia and The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste Establishing Their Maritime Boundaries in The Timor Sea (‘2018 Timor Sea Treaty’). It is a landmark agreement between the two countries and provides a pathway for the final settlement of their continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (‘EEZ’) maritime boundaries. This is the latest maritime boundary treaty negotiation in the Timor Sea, which has been contested for over 45 years by Australia, Portugal, Indonesia and Timor Leste.

At the centre of the dispute has been ownership and control of significant oil and gas reserves, including the Greater Sunrise field that has been valued at between $AUD40-50 billion. This partly explains why, despite previous treaties, there has never been a conclusive settlement of the maritime boundary. The 2018 Treaty bucks this trend and seeks to permanently settle the Australia/Timor-Leste maritime boundary, albeit with the potential for adjustment subject to future negotiations between Timor and Indonesia.

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