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Time for the EU Parliament’s voice to be heard on Japan’s whaling

While the UK EU in/out referendum debate is currently revolving around some polarized views on how long its takes to negotiate new trade deals if the UK leaves the current common market of the European Union, the EU is in negotiations about a new Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Japan. These talks have been dragging on for several years now.

Parallel to carrying out negotiations with the EU, Japan was actually concentrating on the conclusion of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), but with the TPP now concluded Japan possibly sees it self as being in the controlling position with respect to the EU FTA, but should the EU actually be toughening its stance?

Since negotiations had begun 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 International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) 2014 ruling against its Antarctic so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, and its withdraw from all future ICJ decisions on all marine living resources (i.e. all fisheries) means that the EU has to question any legal agreement that Japan enters into going forward.

As if to underline its rejection of international law, Japan, ignoring the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and scientific advice, in November 2015, announced that it would resume Antarctic whaling under its new programme, “NEWREP-A”. The fleet left port on December 1st and is currently in Antarctica, intent upon killing 333 minke whales.

But is whaling so important to Japan that Japan is willing to see an agreement as valuable as the FTA stagger on with no conclusion? Does that potential 24-25% increase in exports to the EU outweigh the tiny, if not miniscule, business of whaling for a few Japanese fishermen? Does the Japanese public want to see a taxpayer subsidized industry block increased manufacturing exports to one of the biggest markets in the world?

The German Marshall Fund of the US reports that, The relatively low degree of transparency of EU negotiations with Japan reminds observers of EU trade policy practice in pre-Lisbon Treaty times. Commission officials have been careful to protect the evolving balance of concessions from excessive public and stakeholder scrutiny in order to retain space for maneuver…”

This lack of transparency has meant that groups such as WDC are concerned that both the EU could fail to take advantage of these negotiations to ‘encourage’ Japan to take a new path when it comes to wildlife protection and that Japan may well try to force concessions out of the EU in future IWC meetings.

Of course WDC believes that the EU should not reward Japan for its aggressive attacks on international law and, indeed, the EU should take the opportunity of utilizing the FTA negotiations to drive home that its time for Japan to change its policy on whaling once and for all.

In 2012, the EU Parliament noted in its “Resolution on EU trade negotiations with Japan” 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.”

As recently as December 2015, the EU signed on to a demarche, strongly condemning Japan´s plan to continue its so-called “research” whaling in the Southern Ocean.

What the whales need now is more than just diplomatic protest. The European Parliament, (EU citizens’ elected officials), with its increased powers within the European Union since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, is in a strong position to call on the EU to make a stand for the whales by applying pressure during the current negotiations.

WDC is therefore urging the European Parliament to call upon the EU Commission to make Japan’s continued flouting of the international moratorium on the hunting of whales under the guise of scientific research, a central subject in the negotiations and to reaffirm the EU´s stance against commercial and scientific whaling.

Because at the end of the day, how much is the right to cruelly kill an intelligent sentient creature that increasingly no one wants to eat, worth to Japan? Maybe through this next stage of negotiations of the FTA we can make it very expensive indeed.

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