International Waters learning Exchange & Resource Network

Amazon Basin

The Amazon Basin is governed by two multilateral conventions: The Amazon Cooperation Treaty, which was adopted in Brasilia, Brazil on 3 July 1978 and entered into force on 2 August 1980; According to Article XVI, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty shall not “be to the detriment of projects and undertakings executed within their respective territories, according to International Law and fair practice between neighboring and friendly countries.” In addition, under Article XIX, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty does not have an effect on any other international treaties in effect between the Member States or any differences that exist between the Member States concerning their limits or territorial rights.



The Amazon Basin is governed by two multilateral conventions:

  • The Amazon Cooperation Treaty, which was adopted in Brasilia, Brazil on 3 July 1978 and entered into force on 2 August 1980; and
  • The Amendment Protocol to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty, which was entered into on 14 December 1998. This amendment created the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (“ACTO”).

ACTO has also entered into the following bilateral agreements:

Certain Member States of ACTO have entered into bilateral agreements, both formal and informal, that govern relations between them in relation to the Amazon Basin:

  • Brazil and Bolivia: Exchange of Notes Constituting an Agreement for the Construction of a Hydroelectric Plant in Cachuela Esperanza, supplementary to the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation, 2 Aug. 1988, available at
  • Brazil and Bolivia: Agreement Concerning the Cachuela Esperanza Hydroelectric Plant, Supplementary to the Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between the Government of the Federative Republic of Brazil and the Government of the Republic of Bolivia, 8 Feb. 1984, available at
  • Ecuador and Peru: Declaration and Exchange of Notes Concerning the Termination of the Process of Demarcation of the Peruvian-Ecuadorean Frontier, 22-24 May 1944, available at


The Member States of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty and the ACTO are Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela.


The Amazon River Basin spans an area of 5,870,000 square kilometers, contains nearly one-fifth of the fresh water on the surface of the Earth, and discharges 4.2 million cubic feet of water per second. The Amazon River Basin covers area in the territories of the eight Member States.


The ACTO and a Permanent Secretariat were established in Brasilia, Brazil in March 2003. The Protocol granted ACTO corporate body status and authorized it to enter into agreements with the Member States, non-member states, and other international organizations. The Permanent Secretariat, which is headed by the Secretary General, is empowered to enter into agreements on behalf of the ACTO whenever the Member States unanimously authorize it to do so.


The Amazon Cooperation Treaty is primarily designed to foster the sustainable development of the Amazon River. The Member States “agree(d) to undertake joint actions and efforts to promote the harmonious development of their respective Amazonian territories in such a way that these actions produce equitable and mutually beneficial results and achieve also the preservation of the environment, and the conservation and rational utilization of the natural resources of those territories.” The Treaty also guarantees freedom of commercial navigation, promotes coordination of health services, as well as coordination in research , infrastructure , and tourism. Under Article V, the Member States commit to make efforts towards the rational use of water resources. These efforts have included the establishment of a hydrometeorogical database of the Amazon region, strengthening technical cooperation between countries in hydrology and climatology, and encouraging the use of remote sensing.

As detailed in the ACTO 2004-2012 Strategic Plan, ACTO has developed goals for each of the following sectors: water, forests/soils and protected natural areas, biological diversity, bio-technology and biotrade, territory ordering, human settlements and indigenous affairs, social infrastructure, health and education; and transportation, electric power and communication infrastructure. The Water aims are the Integrated Management of Hydro-biological Resources and a standard agreement on measures towards preventing contamination.

In 2005, ACTO, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (“GEF”), the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States and the United Nations Development Programme, launched the Integrated and Sustainable Management of Transboundary Water Resources in the Amazon River Basin Considering Climate Change Variability and Change Project (the “GEF Amazonas Project”). The GEF Amazonas Project aims to create a shared vision among the ACTO Member States concerning water resources and land use, which will be used to develop a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis and a Strategic Action Framework Program (“SAP”) for work in the Amazon Basin. Pilot projects under the SAP would be concentrated on the responses of the human communities and the ecosystem to climate variability, droughts, floods, and fires within the Amazon Basin. The project is also focused on institutional harmonization and strengthening, capacity building in regards to integrated water management, and forecasting the hydrological impacts from climate change and the anticipated responses to these changes. The project also seeks to encourage public participation in the sustainable management of water resources. This is intended to be achieved through national workshops, attended by universities, government institutions, and civil society organizations, on specific issues in each Member States, with special attention paid to issues affecting women, youth, elderly and the indigenous peoples.

The goals of the GEF Amazonas Project were discussed in the ACTO Strategic Plan. According to the ACTO Strategic Plan, the Project is to be developed and implemented in three stages. The first stage involves institutional strengthening and pilot projects, such as the development of a framework program of strategic responses for major water resources-related environmental problems that affect the region. The second stage will build upon the work completed in the first stage and seek to implement the strategic actions that were identified. The final stage will work towards strengthening the sustainability of the actions taken and consolidating the integration and joint management by the Amazon countries. In developing the management structure, the Strategic Plan encourages the incorporation of the knowledge and practices on water use developed by the regional indigenous populations and recognizing the demand for potable water and basic sanitation needs. The Strategic Plan also encourages the integration of the Amazon biome and human activity in the lower sections of the basin and the upper Andean region into a sustainable system of water resources management.

In addition, ACTO has worked to promote chemical safety in the Amazon Basin, specifically in regards to mercury contamination. In January 2006, ACTO, in partnership with Brazil’s Ministry of Environment and with support from the U.S. Department of State, released a Regional Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Mercury Contamination in Amazon Ecosystems. The Regional Action Plan aims to promote, in a collaborative manner, a new development model for the region that would incorporate proper handling of chemicals, increased use of clean technologies, the sustainable economic development of the production chain for gold, social inclusion, sustainable use of natural resources, and the welfare of communities in the Amazon Basin.

As part of the November 2009 Declaration of the Heads of State of ACTO, the leaders proposed a new Amazonian Strategic Cooperation Agenda that would be based on promoting the sustainable development of the Amazon based on the appropriate balance of economics, environment, health, indigenous peoples, education, science and technology, water resources, infrastructure, commercial navigation, tourism, and communications considerations. In addition, the Amazonian Strategic Cooperation Agenda is intended to identify actions to reduce and monitor deforestation (including preserving biodiversity); strengthen the institutional and political mechanisms available to indigenous peoples; protect the Amazon’s water resources; promote food security; coordinate environmental surveillance (especially in frontier areas); further develop ecotourism; promote a science and technology agenda that includes traditional knowledge for the region; have the ACTO Permanent Secretariat participate in international negotiations on issues such as climate change, biodiversity, and forests; and hold ministerial meetings in different relevant sectors.


The organizational structure of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty is placed under the auspices of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs will hold a meeting at the initiative of any of the Member States, if the meeting is supported by four Member States. At the meeting, the Ministers will establish common policy guidelines, evaluate the progress of the Amazon cooperation process, and make relevant decisions that guide the implementation of the Treaty. In addition to the Meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, a Meeting of the Presidents of the Amazon countries can also be called to serve as a high-level forum to discuss the issues critical to the region. On the ground level, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty and the Protocol provide for the establishment of the Amazon Cooperation Council (“CCA”), the CCA Coordination Commission, and the Permanent Secretariat/Secretary General. The CCA is comprised of high-level diplomatic representatives of the Contracting Parties. The duties of the CCA include: ensuring compliance with the Treaty objectives; carrying out the decisions made at the meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs; recommending convening meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs; and analyzing projects submitted by Member States and assessing their progress.

There are also five coordinators that oversee the different aspects of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty: environment; health; science, technology, and education; infrastructure, tourism, transport, and communication; and indigenous affairs. These coordinators report to the Permanent Secretariat/Secretary General. In addition, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty authorizes the creation of Special Commissions to study specific matters related to the Treaty. These Special Amazon Commissions work with the CAA, the Permanent Secretariat, and relevant national institutions in their sectors of interest. Currently, there are seven Special Amazon Commissions: Health (CESAM); Indigenous Affairs (CEAIA); Environment (CEMAA); Transport, Infrastructure and Communications (CETICAM); Tourism (CETURA); Education (CEEDA); and Science and Technology (CECTA).

In March 2003, the Pro-Tempore Secretariat that had been in place since the Amazon Cooperation Treaty was concluded was replaced by the Permanent Secretariat of the ACTO and a Secretary General. The Member States must elect the ACTO Secretary General by unanimous vote. The establishment of the Permanent Secretariat consolidated the institutional structure of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty. The Permanent Secretariat is responsible for preparing, in consultation with the Member States, the work plan, program of activities, and the budget for ACTO. These items must be approved unanimously by the CCA before they become effective. One of the major goals of the Permanent Secretariat is to increase the use of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty through various projects and decisions made at the Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the CCA.

To implement the projects, the Permanent Secretariat works through technical units on the regional and national level in order to avoid creating any additional permanent bureaucracies. Each country has a Permanent National Commission (“PNC”) that is responsible for: applying the provisions of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty in its territory; carrying out the decisions and agreements adopted by the Meetings of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the CCA; coordinating policies involving sustainable development in the Amazon region; and suggesting relevant policy measures. The PNCs are composed of representatives from relevant governmental agencies in each country—such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Transportation, the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Planning. The PNCs held their first international meeting in 2004. The PNCs are also being encouraged by the ACTO to take a more proactive role in formulating policies and strategies.

ACTO has also hosted regional meetings concerning Indigenous Affairs, Industrial and Intellectual Property, Science and Technology, Health and Social Protection, and Defense. The impetus for these meetings often occurs as a result of decisions made at the Meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs. These regional meetings aim to bring together important ministers and other representatives from the Member States in order for them to share ideas and encourage collaboration on these respective topics. In addition, the regional meetings often result in a joint declaration from the participants and the development of an agenda of priority issues for the countries to address.


According to Article XVI, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty shall not “be to the detriment of projects and undertakings executed within their respective territories, according to International Law and fair practice between neighboring and friendly countries.” In addition, under Article XIX, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty does not have an effect on any other international treaties in effect between the Member States or any differences that exist between the Member States concerning their limits or territorial rights. The Amazon Cooperation Treaty does not limit the Member States’ abilities to conclude bilateral or multilateral agreements, as long as the agreements are not contrary to the aims stated in the Treaty.

The ACTO actively seeks lasting ties with multinational organizations, such as the World Health Organization, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union, and the national cooperation agencies of many countries. ACTO has also worked with international non-governmental organizations, such as the International Union Conservation of Nature and the World Wildlife Fund. Since the establishment of the Permanent Secretariat, the ACTO has worked to reinvigorate the treaty structure and strengthen its relationships with United Nations organizations and other specialized agencies. As the ATCO has limited funds, it seeks international partnerships and sponsorships for its projects. And since the Member States each have their own national policies on international cooperation in the Amazon region, the Permanent Secretariat has made a push for increased coordination with national governments on this front in order to avoid conflicts and duplication of effort.

ACTO is also involved in Sala Andes Amazonia, a platform which is designed to foster the sustainable development of the Andes-Amazon region through the promotion of trade and investment in “BioTrade” products. The governing principles for “BioTrade” products are: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of biodiversity, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits related to the use of biodiversity, socio-economic sustainability, compliance with national and international regulations, respect for the rights of participants involved in BioTrade activities, and clarity with respect to land tenure as well as in regards to the use and access to natural resources and knowledge. For this initiative, ACTO works in partnership with other intergovernmental organizations (such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the Andean Community), national BioTrade programs, non-profit groups (such as the Union for Ethical BioTrade), and foreign development agencies.


All decisions made by the ACTO and CCA must be by the unanimous decision of the Member States. Decisions of the Special Amazon Commissions must be made by the unanimous vote of the participating Member States. While the Permanent Secretariat is empowered to enter into agreements on behalf of ACTO, it can only do so with the unanimous approval from the Member States.


The Amazon Cooperation Treaty does not contain any specific provisions on dispute resolution. Instead, the Amazon Cooperation Treaty operates only by consensus for all significant decisions. The Treaty emphasizes the sovereignty of each country, noting that “the exclusive use and utilization of natural resources within their respective territories is a right inherent in the sovereignty of each state and that the exercise of this right shall not be subject to any restrictions other than those arising from International Law.” Therefore, a Member State cannot be obligated to undertake any action that it did not approve.


The Member States have a duty to “maintain a permanent exchange of information and cooperation among themselves,” as well as with other agencies operating in the Amazon River Basin. This sharing of information is reflected by the multiple memoranda of understanding that ACTO has entered into with other regional or worldwide bodies (such as the Andean Community and the Inter-American Development Bank). The Member States also agreed to exchange information on flora, fauna, and diseases in the Amazonian territory and to make an annual report on the conservation measures adopted.

In addition, the ACTO Bi-Annual Action Plan describes the programs and projects that are underway and is distributed to the Member States to keep them informed of the activities of the Permanent Secretariat. The Action Plan describes the duration of the program or project, estimated costs, and projected sources of funding. The coordinators of active projects must report back to the Permanent Secretariat on established indicators designed to assess the progress towards the achievement of project goals. The Permanent Secretariat will also publish an Annual Report on the progress of the Bi-Annual Action Plan.

The ACTO Strategic Plan, released in October 2004, describes the plans of the Permanent Secretariat from 2004 to 2012 for various projects that are designed to promote sustainable development and to protect the Amazon Basin. The report describes the strategic axes that will be used to guide the ACTO, the programmatic structure of the plan, and operational tools. The Strategic Plan is meant to be used as a planning document that can be modified based on suggestions from the various stakeholders.

Furthermore, in cooperation with the Directorate General for International Cooperation of the Netherlands (DGIS), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the German Organization for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), ACTO established the Amazon Regional Program regarding the sustainable use and conservation of forests and biodiversity in the Amazon Region. The Amazon Regional Program was developed based on the ACTO Strategic Plan and focuses on being a forum for cooperation and communication among the Member States in the areas of forests, biotrade, tourism, indigenous affairs, and institutional strengthening. For example, in terms of forests, the Member States have developed 15 indicators, which correspond to eight criteria, to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of forest management in the Amazon. This evaluation system was implemented by each Member State and involved training programs, information gathering, identifying key stakeholders, and holding regional talks. The Member States are also working towards developing real-time satellite monitoring system of the forest. In addition, in March 2009, ACTO and the United Nations Environment Programme (with support from the University of the Pacific) released a report entitled “Perspectives on the Environment in the Amazon: Amazon GEO.” The report, which involved the efforts of 150 scientists and researches, provides a comprehensive review of the economic, ecological, social, political, and geographical status of the Amazon region.


Project coordinators need to notify the Permanent Secretariat on their success in meeting progress indicators. See Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization.


The Amazon Cooperation Treaty has no explicit provision addressing funding and financing. The funding mechanism is unclear, although the Member States are required to contribute funds to the ACTO. According to the Strategic Plan, ACTO is studying alternative mechanisms for funding. In the November 2009 Declaration of the Heads of State of the ACTO, the leaders charged the Permanent Secretariat with reviewing potential sources of funding from the Member States in order to move beyond ACTO’s dependence on foreign funds. Many of the project activities are financed with money from international organizations (such as the European Union, various entities of the United Nations, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Organization of American States).


No specific provision.


Each Member State has a Permanent National Commission that is responsible for ensuring that Treaty provisions are carried out. See Organizational Structure. Additionally, coordinators of active projects are required to report to the Permanent Secretariat on indicators designed to monitor the achievement of the goals of the project. See Data Information Sharing, Exchange, and Harmonization.


There is no standing meeting for the Ministers of Foreign Affairs (the highest body in the institutional structure). Meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs are only convened at the request of a Member State, with the support of four Member States. Since the Amazon Cooperation Treaty came into force in 1980, there have been ten meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the most recent in 2010. The CCA holds annual meetings and special meetings upon the request of a majority of the Member States. Since the Permanent Secretariat was established in 2003, the Amazon Coordination Treaty has gained a more formal institutional structure that encourages more regular participation from the Member States.

When implementing projects, the ACTO invites the participation of multiple stakeholders from both international institutions and local civil society, especially as project partners and sponsors. In the Strategic Plan, the Permanent Secretariat encouraged the active participation of regional and local players—especially indigenous people—in developing Amazon cooperation initiatives. The Permanent Secretariat has also stated that it recognizes the value of knowledge and practices that the indigenous people of the Amazon Basin have been developing for hundreds of years.

ACTO also launched a “Teenager Expedition” into the Amazon, which consisted of taking 45 intermediate education level students from the Member States (as well as French Guyana), professors and scientists on a trek along the Amazon River. As part of the expedition, there were seminars and discussions on issues such as the history of the Amazon Basin, its occupation, the problems of the rural and urban populations, indigenous and riparian communities, ecology, as well as sustainable alternatives for the Amazon Basin.

As part of the Amazon Regional Program and its Indigenous Regional Agenda, ACTO, in cooperation with the Amazonian Parliament, the Association of Amazon Universities, and COICA, has organized workshops, with key ministers from the Member States, on issues affecting indigenous peoples in the Amazon. The priority themes of these workshops are Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact, Traditional Knowledge, and Indigenous Lands and Territories. The aim is to develop a work agenda for the region around these three priority themes. For example, in terms of Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation and Initial Contact, the tasks are to protect the indigenous peoples from environmental problems and external influences that could interfere with their culture, livelihood, or security as well as to encourage more effective political and civil participation. The workshops are also intended to bring attention to indigenous issues and to provide a forum for dialogue and interaction between the Member States (such as an exchange of information on government programs for indigenous peoples that are already in place).


The decision to renounce the Amazon Cooperation Treaty must be announced by the departing Member State to the other Member States “at least ninety days prior to formal delivery of the instrument of denunciation” to Brazil. The Treaty will cease to be binding on the Member State denouncing it one year after the delivery of the denunciation instrument to Brazil.


ACTO is working to expand “ecotourism” in the Amazon Basin. ACTO’s Sustainable Tourism Program, which has been underway since 2007, aims to facilitate dialogue between the different Member States, such as through annual meetings for the Ministers of Tourism or other high-level authorities in the different states and the formation of a Technical Tourism Committee composed of national focal points, in order to achieve integrated and coordinated action across the region. As part of this program, ACTO launched Destination Amazonia Year 2009, a regional campaign of activities to advertise the region (through conferences, fairs, festivals, workshops, road shows, etc.) and to promote the development of sustainable tourism in the Amazon. There are also projects underway to develop infrastructure and capacity-building as it relates to tourism, to further develop the idea of the Amazon as a travel destination, and to train individuals in the Member States to coordinate and undertake activities related to tourism.

Furthermore, in 1989, the Member States established the Amazonian Parliament (PARLAMAZ) – a permanent body composed of the representatives from the democratically-elected Parliaments of the Member States. The Amazonian Parliament, which is headquartered in Caracas, Venezuela, works in close cooperation with ACTO and aims to promote political and parliamentarian exchange in the Amazon Basin. The Amazonian Parliament consists of the Assembly, the Board of Directors, the Executive Secretariat, and the Standing Committees (which include the Commission on Sustainable Development, Ecology and Biodiversity; the Committee on Legal Affairs, Legislative, International Cooperation and Integration; the Committee on Political Affairs, Women, Human Rights and Ethnic People of the Amazon; and the Committee on Cultural, Scientific, Technological and Education Issues).



  • Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, available at Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization Strategic Plan 2004-2012, Oct. 2004, available at GEF Amazonas Project, available at Programa Regional Amazônia, available at (Spanish and Portuguese only).
  • Georges D. Landau, The Treaty For Amazonian Cooperation: A Bold New Instrument For Development, 10 GA. J. INT’L. & COMP. L. 463 (1980)
  • Manuel Picasso Botto, The Amazon Cooperation Treaty: A mechanism for cooperation and sustainable development, in MANAGEMENT OF LATIN AMERICAN RIVER BASINS 68-100 (Asit K. Biswas, Newton V. Cordeiro, Benedito P F Braga, Cecilia Tortajada eds.) (United Nations University Press 1999)

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 Depending on the project scope the treaty may not be applicable to all projects