Japan and Acolytes Hail Deep-Sixing of Tuna Ban

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 3/19/2010 12:44:00 AM
Again, I am honestly befuddled as to why so few trade, IPE, and even environmental blogs have bothered to notice news of defeated American-led proposals to ban the export of what many believe is endangered bluefin tuna before the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Doha, Qatar. This topic ticks all the important boxes, dear Amerocentric bloggers: international organization, here for endangered species (CITES); North-South conflicts (many source countries are LDCs); and even bickering between the US and its erstwhile client state, Japan. It is not just an environmental issue but one with implications for the global political economy. A few days ago, I posted on how Japanese recalcitrance on whaling was linked to this bigger issue since sushi and sashimi or raw fish dishes popular in Japan and around the world (unlike, say, whale meat) could be similarly affected if Japan backed down on its hardline stance on whaling.

And so it has come to pass that the Japanese are rather happy with the news that the immediate export ban favoured by the US and the phased-in one proposed by European countries have both bitten the dust thanks to Japanese diplomacy aimed at soliciting support from LDCs. What Western nations and environmentalists did not appear to give sufficient attention to is a ban's effects on the source nations where these fish come from: in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. It's effectively a mini-rehash of the Copenhagen climate change melodrama, with many developing countries claiming that global environmental regulation would damage their right to livelihood from fishing and selling tuna to major export markets like Japan. From Japan Today:
Fishing nations won a victory over environmentalists Thursday when a U.S.-backed proposal to ban export of the Atlantic bluefin tuna was overwhelmingly rejected at a U.N. wildlife meeting. Japan won over scores of poorer nations with a campaign that played on fears that a ban would devastate their economies. Tokyo also raised doubts that such a radical move was scientifically sound...

With stocks of Atlantic bluefin tuna down 75% due to the rapacious appetites of Japanese sushi lovers, the defeat of the proposal was a stunning setback for the Americans, Europeans and their conservationist allies who had hoped the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, would protect the fish.

“Let’s take science and throw it out the door,” Susan Lieberman, director of international policy with the Pew Environment Group in Washington, said sarcastically. “It’s pretty irresponsible of the governments to hear the science and ignore the science,” she said. “Clearly, there was pressure from the fishing interests. The fish is too valuable for its own good.”

Japan, which imports 80 percent of the tuna, had lobbied delegates hard to kill the proposal. They even held a reception Wednesday night for uncertain delegates that included plenty of bluefin sushi. When Monaco introduced its proposal Thursday, the gallery was filled with critics who ignored a plea to save the once-abundant species that roams across vast stretches of the Atlantic Ocean and grows as big as 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms).

There is an increasing demand for raw tuna for traditional dishes such as sushi and sashimi. The bluefin variety—called “hon-maguro” in Japan—is particularly prized, with a 200-kilogram (440-pound) Pacific bluefin tuna fetching a record 20.2 million yen ($220,000) last year. “This exploitation is no longer exploitation by traditional fishing people to meet regional needs,” Monaco’s Patrick Van Klaveren told delegates. “Industrial fishing of species is having a severe effect on numbers of this species and its capacity to recover. We are facing a real ecosystem collapse.”

But it became clear that the proposal had little support. Only the United States, Norway and Kenya supported the proposal outright. The European Union asked that its implementation be delayed until May 2011 to give authorities time to respond to concerns about overfishing.

Fishing nations from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean complained that any ban would damage their fishing communities and that fears of the stock’s collapse were overstated. Libya, in a rambling defense of its position, went so far as to accuse Monaco of lying and trying to mislead delegates before calling for the vote.

Under CITES rules, a country can attempt to bring a proposal back to a vote, but Monaco said it wouldn’t. Japan acknowledged the stocks were in trouble but echoed a growing consensus at the meeting that CITES should have no role in regulating tuna and other marine species. It expressed a willingness to accept lower quotas for bluefin tuna but wanted those to come from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, or ICCAT, which currently regulates the trade.

“Japan is very much concerned about the status of Atlantic bluefin tuna and Japan has been working so hard for many years to ensure recovery,” Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor of the Fisheries Agency of Japan, told delegates. “But our position is very simple. Let us do this job in ICCAT, not in CITES. This position is shared by the majority of Asian nations.”

Afterward, Miyahara welcomed the decision but admitted the pressure would be on his country and others who depend on the Atlantic bluefin to abide by ICCAT. The organization ruled in November to reduce its quota from 22,000 tons to 13,500 tons for 2010. The body has also promised to rebuild the stock by 2022, which could include closing some fisheries if necessary. “I feel more responsibly to work for the recovery of the species,” Miyahara said. “So it’s kind of a heavy decision for Japan too. The commitment is much heavier than before.”
The Economist--not usually on anybody's list of environmentally concerned publications--has a vivid description of Japan wining and dining delegates to its side as well as of the histrionics the Libyan delegate who forced the issue and ultimately deep-sixed the motion (keep in mind that Libya is a tuna exporter):
It was a moment of some drama when delegates assembled in Doha came to vote on a ban in the trade in bluefin tuna on March 18th. The previous evening many representatives of the 175 member nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) had been at a reception at the Japanese embassy. Prominent on the menu was bluefin tuna sushi. On the agenda the next day at the CITES meeting was a proposal to list the bluefin tuna as sufficiently endangered that it would qualify for a complete ban in the trade of the species (The Economist supports such a ban).

The complex proposal called for further discussion of the bluefin tuna’s plight. Europe, the United States, Monaco and Norway were hoping to move to an adjournment, which would have allowed a proper investigation of the issues over the weekend. Kevern Cochrane, the representative from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), agreed. He also acknowledged that the official FAO panel had decided that the species met the scientific criteria for listing as a sufficiently endangered species qualifying for a trade ban--the bluefin tuna population has dropped below 15% of its maximum historical level.

At this stage, eyewitnesses report that the Libyan delegation made an unusual intervention. According to David Allison of OCEANA, a marine charity, the Libyan delegate started “screaming and calling everyone liars…He said the science was no good and that it was part of a conspiracy of developed countries. It was theatre. Then he stopped screaming and called for an immediate vote”. Another witness, Sergi Tudela, a fisheries expert with the WWF, agreed. “The Libyan representative accused the FAO of serving political interests and said there was no scientific basis for the listing.”

After this the talking stopped. The call for a ban, proposed by Monaco, was put to an immediate vote using a procedural ploy and rejected with 68 votes against, 20 in favour and 30 abstentions...

Libya has used a procedural ruse to force a vote without any substantial discussion of the scientific, technical or economic issues. It has sidestepped the only public forum that exists to discuss whether action is needed to save a species that is being fished, traded and eaten to extinction. Had the discussion taken place before a vote to reject the trade ban, this would at least have counted as an honourable victory.
I do not usually think of Japan as the most astute diplomatic practitioner, but they certainly got what they wanted here. All the same, it reflects badly on United Nations processes for something of genuine interest to be treated with such wilful disregard. Still, we live and learn from how this example contrasts with the successful, UN-initiated Kimberley Process for regulating trade in blood diamonds. Among other things, LDC buy-in was clearly not present as many had little to gain from going along. You live, you learn.

PS: This is the second time in three posts I've supported the US position. I may need some medication...