WELLINGTON, March 13 (Xinhua) -- New Zealand's failure to sign up to international laws on ship emissions and air pollution is "embarrassing" and could have a serious economic impact, a law expert said Monday.
New Zealand was one of only four countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that had not signed up to Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), said Bevan Marten, a maritime law specialist at Victoria University.
"This international standard has been around for years. The fact that New Zealand hasn't signed up to it makes us a real outlier - it's quite embarrassing," Marten said.
"Any country we want to compare ourselves to - from Australia to Europe, as well as lots of Pacific islands - has ratified it."
Annex VI, which was agreed in 1997 and took effect internationally in 2005, dealt primarily with ships' fuel quality and engine efficiency.
It was also being used by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as the vehicle for discussions around greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.
As well as risking its reputation, New Zealand also risked not having a credible voice at IMO when the next steps for shipping's response to greenhouse gases were discussed.
"We are saying that climate change is important, but any other country could turn around and ask why we haven't signed up to this agreement," said Marten.
Some of the proposals on the table at IMO for addressing the reduction in shipping emissions would have a serious economic impact on New Zealand, as they would involve ships that travel longer distances having to pay higher levies.
"New Zealand's geographic isolation makes us vulnerable and with our international trading interests we need the government to take a strong and effective line when these issues are raised. Without having ratified Annex VI, New Zealand lacks a credible voice in these discussions," he said.
"To date our government policy has been that we're just a small country with no international shipping fleet of our own so it doesn't really matter, but this is disingenuous and irresponsible."
There are also health benefits to signing the agreement as the burning of bunker fuel oil at New Zealand ports was a significant source of nitrogen oxides and fine particulates, which were known to be carcinogenic.