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British Indian Ocean Territory: Environment Protection

Volume 506: debated on Friday 5 March 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs pursuant to the answer of 22 February 2010, Official Report, column 211W, on the British Indian Ocean Territory: environment protection, what proposals were made by each of the bodies represented at the meeting on (a) 14 January and (b) 21 July 2009; what response the Government made to each of those proposals; and what his policy is on relations between the UK and Mauritius. (320128)

During the 14 January meeting the delegations discussed the latest legal and policy developments relating to the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT)/Chagos Archipelago. Both delegations set out their respective positions on sovereignty and the UK also set out how the UK needed to bear in mind its treaty obligations with the US and our ongoing need of the British Indian Ocean Territory for defence purposes. There was mutual discussion of fishing rights, environmental concerns, the continental shelf and future visits to the Territory by Chagossians.

During the 21 July meeting both delegations reiterated their respective positions on sovereignty and resettlement as expressed at the first round of talks held in London on 14 January. The delegations agreed on the desirability of a co-ordinated submission to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for an extended continental shelf in the Chagos Archipelago/BIOT region. A joint technical team would be set up with officials from both sides to look into the possibilities of a co-ordinated response. The UK delegation proposed that consideration be given to the possible creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA), which the Mauritians agreed in principle. The UK delegation agreed to examine the Mauritian proposal to set up a mechanism to look into the joint issuing of fishing licences for BIOT waters, and stated that such examination would also include consideration of the implications of the proposed MPA.

UK relations with Mauritius are broad and deep, with regular contacts at all levels. The UK is Mauritius’ largest trade partner and second largest tourism market. The UK and Mauritius have many shared international priorities and, subject to regional voting constraints, the UK and Mauritian Governments frequently take the same positions in international fora. Within regional blocs, such as the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC), Mauritius is often a voice supporting UK aims. The Government also supports, through the EU, structural adjustment of the Mauritian economy to cope with the loss of sugar preferences. The UK will continue to develop this relationship—later in the year, we will be marking the 200th Anniversary of UK involvement in Mauritius. More immediately, the Privy Council will hold their second sitting in Mauritius this April.