A large body of international law covers the movement of people and goods between countries. Laws concerning people cover both the rights of travellers and the rights of nations to restrict entry. There are laws covering the transport and trade in goods, along with laws, such as the law of the sea, that cover the rights to resources outside national borders.
Laws governing international travel and immigration
The international law governing the movement of people, goods, aircraft and ships across borders is applied every day around the world by immigration, customs, agriculture, aviation and port authorities. Sometimes disputes will arise, for instance over those seeking refugee status, fearing persecution, death or torture. Those issues were addressed by the New Zealand authorities and courts in the case of asylum-seeker Ahmed Zaoui in 2004–5. The courts apply the presumption that New Zealand legislation must be read consistently, if possible, with international law. In the Zaoui case the relevant New Zealand law was the Immigration Act and the relevant international law was the Refugees Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture. The New Zealand courts, after consideration, ruled essentially in favour of Zaoui.
Laws governing international trade
The World Trade Organization (WTO) has set up a binding disputes settlement procedure to deal with trade disputes between its members. Among the issues covered are:
- trade and tariffs
- agriculture, including subsidies
- health and sanitation, including animal and plant disease
- rules to determine the origin of a product
- import licensing and customs valuation
- intellectual property.
- Consultations – the countries involved meet to resolve the dispute.
- Panel stage – if consultation has not resolved the issue, the country laying the complaint can call for an adjudicative panel to be set up. If the panel decides there has been a breach of the relevant WTO agreement, it can call on the offending country to change its laws or policies to rectify this.
- Appeal – either party in a dispute has the right of appeal to the WTO Appellate Body, a panel of seven members who serve four-year terms. New Zealander Chris Beeby was appointed an initial member of the Appellate Body when it was established in 1995.
The WTO has a three-stage settlement process:
Disputes between foreign investors and host states are also increasingly becoming the subject of binding arbitration.
Australia had banned the importation of New Zealand apples for many years on the grounds that the bacterial disease fire blight, present in New Zealand apples, should be kept out of Australia. New Zealand exporters argued the disease could not be carried on mature fruit. After going before a WTO panel, both New Zealand and Australia took the dispute to the WTO Appellate Body. The Appellate Body resolved the dispute in October 2010, deciding in favour of New Zealand’s apple exporters.
The law of the sea
The law of the sea is a part of the international law regulating the environment. This law has been the subject of major change over the centuries and particularly since the mid-20th century. In some areas it is still seriously incomplete, particularly in protecting highly migratory fish stocks in the high seas (the parts of oceans outside of any nation’s territorial waters). New Zealand played a major role in developing the Convention on the Conservation and Management of the High Seas Fishery Resources of the South Pacific Ocean, an example of ongoing lawmaking. The enforcement of the law on the high seas is primarily a responsibility of the flag state – the state in which a ship is registered. The use of flags of convenience, where the ship is registered in a different country to that of its owners, can make it difficult to enforce the law of the sea. In some cases coastal states exercise authority over a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and port states may have particular powers and responsibilities, generally exercised through their own government authorities.
Southern bluefin tuna
In 1999 Japan announced that it would carry out an experimental fishing programme for southern bluefin tuna, in addition to its existing commercial catch. New Zealand and Australia objected to the proposed increase in the Japanese catch, submitting the case to international arbitration. In the meantime the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea called a halt to the Japanese experimental fishing programme until issues were dealt with. The dispute was eventually resolved by negotiations between New Zealand, Australia and Japan.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is the tribunal that makes decisions on disputes arising from the application of law of the sea. It deals with cases involving the detention of vessels or crews, as well as disputes over the seabed, fisheries and the marine environment. Maritime disputes are also the subjects of binding third-party settlements by the International Court of Justice or by ad hoc arbitration tribunals, notably to resolve maritime boundaries in many parts of the world.