New deep-sea mining rules set to miss 2023 deadline, Latam and Caribbean countries say

A polymetallic, or manganese, nodule is displayed the the booth of DeepGreen Resources, a seafloor mining startup, during the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) annual convention in Toronto, Ontario, Canada March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren
  • Jamaica-based U.N. body must finalise regulations by mid-2023
  • COVID-19 has stalled negotiations, restricted access
  • Member states, observers ask for Dec meetings to be postponed

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Regulations governing deep-sea mining will take longer to finalise due to the global pandemic, a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries said, creating uncertainty for companies looking to mine the seabed for battery metals.

The delayed negotiations also pose a potential difficulty for companies seeking financing from investors to mine the sea floor.

The U.N.'s Kingston, Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) is working on global rules covering sea bed mining, which is not allowed until the regulations are finalised.

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The tiny Pacific state of Nauru has tried to speed up the process by triggering in June a two-year deadline for the rules to be completed. Nauru is a sponsoring state of mining company The Metals Co (TMC.O) subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI). read more

Costa Rica, on behalf of a group of Latin American and Caribbean countries, said "no tangible progress has been achieved" towards adopting regulations and guidelines for mining. Its submission, dated Oct. 13, was published on the ISA website on Thursday.

The letter said the ISA Council might not be able to finalise and adopt required regulations within the two-year period, adding that delegations are far from reaching agreement on key issues.

Countries represented in the submission included Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica, Panama and Trinidad and Tobago.

A spokesperson for the ISA said it had no comment on the letter by Costa Rica, but said the ISA's Legal and Technical Commission prepared 10 draft standards and guidelines through remote meetings in 2020 and 2021, and those have been submitted for public consultation for three months.

In July, a group of African nations criticised fast-tracking of negotiations, calling the task of agreeing on regulations by mid-2023 "seemingly insurmountable". read more

Deep-sea mining involves sucking up potato-sized rocks rich in cobalt, nickel and other battery metals from the Pacific Ocean floor at depths of 4-6 kms.

Many scientists and environmentalists have called for a ban on deep-sea mining, saying it could cause lasting damage to little-understood habitats. The World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) call for a moratorium has been joined by companies including carmaker BMW (BMWG.DE) and Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google. read more

In September, the ISA said meetings of the ISA Council and ISA Assembly would be held in Kingston from Dec 6 to Dec 10 and Dec 13 to Dec 15, with restrictions on how many delegates can enter the meeting room, due to the pandemic.

Chile and two environmental groups recently requested the meetings be postponed due to the restrictions, in letters seen by Reuters. Chile proposed a postponement of the Council meeting to April 4-8 2022.

Jamaica's COVID-19 measures include a quarantine period even for vaccinated arrivals, and a 50-person limit on meetings, making it difficult for representatives from around the world to attend.

In an Oct 25 letter seen by Reuters, ISA Secretary-General Michael Lodge argued against Chile's proposal and said meeting in December is "both necessary and urgent".

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Reporting by Helen Reid, Editing by Amran Abocar, Jane Merriman and Lincoln Feast; Editing by David Gregorio

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