The Japanese embassy in Doha recently threw a party for delegates of CITES, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Waiters served drinks and canapes. There were also trays of sushi – sushi made in part from bluefin tuna. The next day, the delegates voted heavily against the ban on Atlantic bluefin tuna that had been proposed by the United States and the European Union. The population of this species has fallen by about three-quarters in the past 40 years.
This was the first success for the Japanese delegation, which overall can congratulate itself on having protected Japanese fishermen but not endangered fish at this year’s conference in Doha.
“One country stands out particular for criticism and that’s Japan,” said Oliver Knowles from Greenpeace International. “Its delegation here has been many times the size it normally is. The lobbying tactics have been described to us as aggressive by a number of African nations and it’s clear to us that their lobby has been designed to overturn the vote on bluefin tuna because they have an interest in sushi.”
Aggressive lobbying might have included bribing
There was some speculation that the aggressive lobbying by Japan and certain other nations included threats and bribery. Sue Liebermann from the US-based Pew Environment Group explained:
“I haven’t seen any actual bribery so I would not accuse any government of doing such a horrible thing,” said Sue Liebermann from the US-based Pew Environment Group.
“We have spoken to a number of small developing countries that have said they are told they have to vote against all the fish proposals. They’ve been told by their governments back home that they’ve received pressure from Japan. There are a lot of small developing countries with economic interests that are worried. So their representatives here have no choice.”
The Japanese delegation did confirm that developing countries had been offered funding to expand their fisheries sector, however it insisted this had nothing to do with bribery.
The convention goes back almost 30 years
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species was signed in Washington in 1973 and came into force in 1975.175 nations have since signed up to it. Representatives meet regularly to discuss which species are in need of more, less or no protection.
This year, animal rights activists and NGOs are angry about the outcome. “It’s been quite disappointing actually. People came here hoping that there would be some real positive steps made towards conservation of endangered species and instead many of those proposals have been turned down,” Jeff Flocken from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said.
NGOs also criticised the fact that much of the voting had taken place behind closed doors. However, it was not only the lack of transparency that infuriated animal rights activists this year.
Sue Lieberman from the Pew Environment Group said it was outrageous that scientific research had been blatantly ignored: “This convention has a history of looking at the science and restricting trade for the sake of conservation but Japan and other interests here want this to be a treaty that restricts conservation for the sake of trade and that’s just plain wrong.”
Overall, animal rights activists summed up the conference in Doha as being a great victory for big business and a sad defeat for endangered species and biodiversity.