Whaling 'peace deal' falls apart

from BBC updated at 10:42 GMT, Wednesday, 23 June 2010 11:42 UK

Attempts to agree a compromise between whaling nations and their
opponents at the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting
have failed.

After two days of private discussions, delegates reported they had been
unable to reach agreement on major issues.

The deal would have put whaling by Iceland, Japan and Norway under
international oversight for 10 years.

Talks on the "peace process" have been going on for two years, and a
further year's "cooling-off period" is likely.

"After two years of talks... it appears our process is at an impasse,"
said the US commissioner Monica Medina.

The US has been one of the nations pushing the compromise process
forward, and Ms Medina said the breakdown was the fault of no particular

However, other delegates - albeit in moderate terms - sought to pin the
blame for the breakdown on their opponents.

Argentina's representative Susana Ruiz Cerutti said the draft proposal
which has been in front of governments for two months did not meet the
needs of Latin American countries.

"It legitimises scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean (by Japan), and
does not substantially reduce catches," she said.

The gulf between this vision and that of the whaling nations was
exemplified by Japan's junior agriculture and fisheries minister Yasue
Funayama, who described the aim of the talks as "restoring the IWC's
function as a resource management organisation".

Anti-whaling nations overwhelmingly want the body to transform into a
whale conservation organisation.

The proposal, she said, "contained elements that are extremely difficult
for Japan to accept".

Behind the scenes, Japanese sources said the key stumbling block for
them was the demand from the EU and the Buenos Aires group of Latin
American countries that its Antarctic whaling programme must end within
a set time-frame.
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For Japan, agreeing to reduce its quota from 935 now to 200 in 10 years
time represented a significant step forward, which they thought ought to
have been acceptable to their opponents, with further discussions -
possibly on a phase-out - taking place subsequently.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's former prime minister and current
whaling commissioner, who has been intimately involved in the "peace
talks", said that "Japan did show real flexibility and a real
willingness to compromise".

"But we are in the situation now where the gaps cannot at this time be
bridged; and the reason for this I think is obvious enough - there is an
absence of a political will to bridge those gaps, an absence of
political will to compromise."
Continue reading the main story Guide to whales (BBC) Q&A: Whaling deal
negotiations Guide to the oceans' great whales Earth Watch: Whaling -
interested parties

The path forwards now is unclear. Many delegates are asking whether
there is any point in leaving the issue open for a further year; if
agreement is impossible, they suggest it would be better to face up to
the fact now.

Opting for more time would "raise the question of the commission's
credibility," said Remi Parmentier, senior policy adviser to the Pew
Environment Group, which has been one of the organisations backing the
exploration of compromise.

But there may also be a reluctance to leave the more constructive tone
of the previous two years behind, and risk a return to the acrimony that
formerly characterised the IWC.

However, other anti-whaling groups were pleased that their governments
did not accept the draft agreement, as in their view it would have
legitimised the whaling programmes of Iceland, Japan and Norway.

"Had this deal lived, it would have lived in infamy," said Patrick
Ramage, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW)
whales programme.

"There may be a cooling-off period in the IWC, but meanwhile the whalers
will be in hot pursuit of their prey."