A closed door meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in early December does not augur well for whales. Japan has no intention of giving up its phoney scientific whaling program. The meeting, convened to address a consensus solution to the current impasse, has already been jonahed by the Japanese government opening up trade in whale meat with Norway and Iceland.

The recent import of Fin and Minke whale meat by Japan has been virtually ignored by anti-whaling governments. In complete defiance of the global moratorium, the three whaling countries are lifting their collective finger to the whale conservation minded and in the process, opening the gates of hell. Commercial whaling will become a reality as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) overwhelms the IWC and the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

To put the sheer gall of Japan in perspective, Fin whales are on Appendix 1 of CITES, a listing which prohibits trade. Although Japan has taken out reservations against the listing, effectively removing the authority of CITES; and given that the recent meeting of the IWC has been convened to find ways to keep Japan happy; this act of total defiance is an insulting international snub.

Leading the efforts to give Japan the go-ahead to ignore a raft of international conventions, including the Antarctic Treaty System as well as expert international legal advice and its own legislation, is the  USA. Current IWC Chair and US IWC Commissioner, Dr William Hogarth, has worked tirelessly in his term of office to appease Japan.

A Bush appointee, his orders come direct from the White House, leading many to believe that one of the last acts of President George W Bush is to give Japan, Norway and Iceland the go-ahead to start commercial whaling.

Very few involved in the whale struggle realise that the World Customs Organisation, (WCO) Harmonized Tariff Schedule, (adopted by all WTO ratifying governments) includes Tariff items for cetacean meat and products. This curious inclusion came about under the Bush administration. It’s worth noting again that a global moratorium on commercial whaling is still in force.

But the question of whether trade aka the WTO, overwhelms Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs) such as the IWC and CITES which rely on trade sanctions to enforce their resolutions, is not resolved. Only governments can take action in the WTO Tribunals. As an indication of the unwillingness of WTO ratifying countries to test the waters, Japan’s subsidy of the whaling industry, some $10 million USD annually, is WTO illegal according to trade lawyers.

But any challenge by the US or any other anti-whaling nation remains unlikely. It is the failure of the US to impose trade sanctions against Japan, Norway and Iceland which has led to the complete breakdown of the IWC. President Bush categorically refused to use trade sanctions as a means of enforcing MEAs, including the Kyoto Protocol.

The ALP’s total back-down on its election promise to take Japan to the international courts is all about trade. A Free Trade Agreement with Japan would be under threat. In the present economic meltdown, jeopardising the relationship between Australia’s number one trade partner which generates around 37 billion dollars in export earnings is even more unlikely.

But wait, it gets worse. According to Sir Ronald Sanders, a former Caribbean diplomat, sources close to the IWC have indicated that the “compromise package” on which Hogarth is working will legitimize Japan’s “scientific” whaling and give it a new right to kill whales in coastal waters.

And we know from insiders that the Pacific Island nations who are members of the IWC are more than enthusiastic in their support of “sustainable whaling”. They would be. Once whaling in coastal waters becomes a reality, it will set an international legal precedent which is unstoppable. The IWC will be irrelevant.

Sanders believes Japan is so confident of the compromise being negotiated with Hogarth its whaling fleet set sail for Antarctica to hunt around 850 whales including 50 endangered fin whales.

With no transparency, no recognition of the public interest and total silence from IWC member nations, the fate of the world’s whales is being decided behind closed doors.

Australia had a presence at the meeting but the government’s anti-whaling stance is no longer taken seriously by the international community or the Australian public.

Peter Fray

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