The EU needs to talk whaling with Japan

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Japan's last whaling fleet killed 333 minke whales, 90% of which were pregnant. [Oregon State University/Flickr]

Japan has resumed its ‘scientific’ whaling activities in Antarctica. The EU should use its trade deal negotiations to gain commitments from the Far-East country to enforce the multilateral environmental agreements to which it is a signatory, write Chris Butler-Stroud and Joanna Swabe.

Chris Butler-Stroud is CEO of Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Dr Joanna Swabe is Executive Director at Humane Society International/Europe.

As negotiations for the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement are soon set to enter their 17th round and substantial parts of the Sustainable Development chapter are reportedly close to completion, one big issue continues to be kept off the negotiating table: whaling.

For many years, Japan has been flouting the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling by issuing special permits for so-called ‘scientific’ whaling. In March 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan should immediately rescind these permits, as its whaling was not ‘for the purposes of science’ and, therefore, Japan was in contravention of the IWC moratorium.

Undeterred, in October 2015, Japan declared that it would reject any future jurisdiction of the ICJ over all marine living resources, including whales. Subsequently, in November 2015, Japan announced that it would resume Antarctic whaling under its new programme, “NEWREP-A”, despite the judgment of the Court and overwhelming scientific opposition.

The fleet left port for Antarctica on 1 December 2015; returning in March 2016, having killed 333 minke whales. Around 90% of the adult females harpooned were pregnant.

According to the latest IWC resolution on scientific whaling (2014), no further special permits for whaling under existing or new research programmes should be issued before the IWC has addressed the guidance arising from the ICJ. Moreover, in June 2015, the IWC Scientific Committee concluded that NEWREP-A does not meet the requirements of the IWC Convention for scientific whaling, since no convincing justification for the use of lethal methods had been given.

MEPs from across all political groups have also joined this loud chorus of disapproval. In a rare display of unanimity during a recent plenary debate, they expressed their abhorrence for the resumption of whaling in Antarctica and agreed that the EU needs to exert more pressure on Japan to cease its whaling activities.

To these ends, several MEPs explicitly asked the Commission and Council whether they planned to pursue this issue through the current FTA negotiations with Japan. Disappointingly, Commissioner Jyrki Katainen declared that while the EU was indeed pushing for a strong chapter on sustainable development, whaling would not be part of the discussion.

The Commission’s sheer disregard for the European Parliament’s position on this issue beggars belief. In a Resolution on the planned EU-Japan FTA negotiations adopted in 2012, the Parliament noted that, “serious divergences remain between the EU and Japan on issues related to the management of fisheries and whaling notably Japan’s whaling under the guise of scientific whaling, and calls for broader discussions on the matter of the abolition of whale hunting and of trade in whale products”.

Continually turning a blind eye to this direct statement from the EU’s elected officials sends the wrong signal to Japan. Since the FTA negotiations were launched in 2013, Japan has gone out of its way to significantly undermine international law with respect to the whaling issue. Its effective rejection of the ICJ’s 2014 ruling against its so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, and its withdrawal from all future ICJ decisions on all marine living resources (i.e. all fisheries) means that the EU should seriously question any agreement Japan enters into going forward.

Failure to raise whaling within the FTA negotiations will have consequences. The Commission should take advantage of the negotiations to encourage Japan to follow a new path with regard to wildlife protection. Otherwise, Japan may try to coerce the EU to make new concessions at future IWC meetings.

The EU should not reward Japan for its aggressive attacks on international law and, indeed, should seize the opportunity presented by the FTA negotiations to emphasise that the time is ripe for Japan live up to its commitments under the multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) to which it is a signatory and to change its policy on whaling once and for all.

It has in fact become standard for the sustainable development chapters of trade deals negotiated by the EU to include an article whereby the parties commit to effectively implement in their laws and practices the MEAs to which they are party. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) is one such MEA to which Japan must abide.

Following its June plenary debate on Japanese whaling, the European Parliament is set to table a Motion for a Resolution on the matter in July. It seems clear that their voice should be instrumental in getting the EU to take a stronger stand against Japan´s whaling.

The European Union already has adopted strong policies against commercial and scientific whaling. The Commission has both an opportunity and obligation to reaffirm the EU´s stance against commercial and scientific whaling during its FTA negotiations with Japan.