Arctic states have agreed to let nations that are located nowhere near the Earth's north to become observers to their diplomatic council.

The decision Wednesday by the Arctic Council boosts rising superpowers China, India and Korea that seek to mine the region of its untapped energy and other natural resources. The European Union also was tentatively granted observer status to the eight-state council but must first address several questions about its bid, including concerns about its ban on Canadian seal exports.

Membership to the long-obscure Arctic Council has become increasingly lucrative as the thawing region's waterways open to commercial shipping traffic.

Officials estimate the Arctic holds 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves, and 30 percent of undiscovered gas deposits.