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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The Law of the Sea Convention Helps American Business

Fact Sheet
Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs
Washington, DC
July 1, 2011


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, American Petroleum Institute, Chamber of Shipping, International Association of Drilling Contractors, National Ocean Industries Association, and the National Fisheries Institute, among others, have all publicly supported U.S. accession to the Convention, as have many U.S. companies, such as AT&T, Sprint, and Tyco.

The oceans hold vast and valuable natural resources, both living and non-living.[1] They provide a vital means by which goods are transported worldwide. And they enable critical economic activities, for example, through the laying of cables and pipelines.

The Convention benefits American companies in two essential ways. First, it provides the legal certainty and predictability that businesses depend upon. Second, the Convention sets forth rules that promote and protect their interests.

Specifically, the Convention:

  • gives coastal States an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) extending 200 nautical miles offshore, encompassing diverse ecosystems and vast natural resources such as fisheries, energy, and other minerals. The U.S. EEZ is the largest in the world, spanning over 13,000 miles of coastline and containing 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean—larger than the combined land area of all fifty states.[2]
  • gives coastal States sovereign rights for the purpose of exploiting and managing resources of the continental shelf, which can extend beyond 200 nautical miles if certain criteria are met. The United States is likely to have one of the world’s largest continental shelves, potentially extending beyond 600 nautical miles off Alaska.
  • guarantees the ability to lay and maintain submarine cables and pipelines in the EEZs and on the continental shelves of other States and on the high seas.
  • secures the rights we need for commercial ships to export U.S. commodities and protects the tanker routes through which half of the world’s oil moves.
  • is the foundation upon which rules for sustainable international fisheries are based.

Only as a Party would the United States and its businesses reap the Convention’s full economic benefits:

  • We would put our economic rights on the firmest legal footing, that is, treaty law.
  • We could take advantage of the treaty procedure that provides legal certainty and international recognition of the U.S. continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles.
  • We could sponsor American companies to engage in deep seabed mining.

[1] Untapped reserves in the Arctic region are estimated at 90 billion barrels of oil and 1,669 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (“Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle,” U.S. Geological Survey.) Unclaimed deep seabed mining areas may hold over $1 trillion dollars worth of manganese, copper, nickel, and cobalt. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Letter to Senator Reid and McConnell, May 2008.)

[2] “The United States is an Ocean Nation,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,

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