As summer approaches, more traffic is expected in Canada's northern waterways, particularly along the Northwest Passage, where global warming is gradually opening new routes.

Five countries with rival claims to the Arctic seabed — including Canada — agreed Wednesday that a decision on control of the potentially oil-rich area will be reached in an orderly way.

Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark and Norway signed a declaration that "creates a good political framework for a peaceful development in the Arctic Ocean in the future," said Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller.

"The five nations have now declared that they will follow the rules," Moeller said. "We have hopefully quelled all myths about a race for the North Pole once and for all."

Interest in the region is intensifying because global warming is shrinking the polar ice, and that could someday open up resource development and new shipping lanes. A U.S. study suggests the region may hold 25 per cent of the world's undiscovered oil and gas.

Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, the foreign ministers of Denmark, Norway and Russia, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte gathered in Ilulissat, a town 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in Greenland, for the conference on the Arctic. Denmark called the conference in an attempt to end international squabbling over the matter.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying he did not "share any alarming forecasts of an expected confrontation between the interests of the Arctic states and the nations beyond the region, a future 'battle for the Arctic Ocean.'

"We firmly believe that all questions arising here should be solved in a civilized manner on the basis of international law through negotiations," Lavrov was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax agency.

A United Nations panel is supposed to decide on Arctic control by 2020.

Russia, Canada and Denmark all claim they are physically connected to the Lomonosov Ridge, a 2,000-kilometre underwater mountain range that stretches from Siberia to an area between northern Ellesmere Island and Greenland.

Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Arctic countries have 10 years after ratification to prove their claims under the largely uncharted polar ice pack. All countries with claims to the Arctic have ratified the treaty, with the exception of the United States. Canada ratified the treaty in 2003.

U.S. President George W. Bush has been pushing the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty.

With files from the Associated Press