Britain, Japan square off at whaling meet
The International Whaling Commission, evenly divided between pro- and anti-whaling factions, opened its 63rd annual meeting Monday with a British proposal to battle alleged graft and boost transparency.
"We think its procedures need modernising and we are coming forward with the bare minimum of requirements for an international organisation in the modern age," Britain's junior environment minister, Richard Benyon, told AFP on the sidelines of the opening plenary session held on the Channel island of Jersey.
Benyon said the British plan should garner support both from "countries that support a return to commercial whaling as well as countries, like mine and France, that don't."
The chronically deadlocked body was rocked last year by accusations in the British press that Japan used cash and development aid to "buy" votes from Caribbean and African nations.
Japan, which denied the charges, is one of three countries along with Norway and Iceland that practice large-scale whaling despite a 1986 moratorium.
Collectively, they take hundreds of the marine mammals each year.
Smaller quotas are granted to other nations for traditional, indigenous whaling.
Britain's resolution would end the practice whereby states can pay annual subscriptions by cash or cheque.
Ranging from several thousand to more than 100,000 euros (140,000 dollars), fees would have to be paid by bank transfer from the government concerned to reduce the risk of influence-peddling.
Also on the table are measures to boost the integrity and authority of the IWC's scientific committee, provide greater voice and access for non-governmental organisations, and report more quickly and fully on Commission proceedings.
Japan has yet to formally comment on the proposed reforms, but a spokesman expressed scepticism on how much progress could be made.
"Ten years ago the environment minister for the United Kingdom came to this meeting saying, 'I'm going to fix it'. He never did," said Glen Inwood, spokesman for the Japanese delegation.
"There is a range of issues here, it's too big and one minister from England can't do it."
Britain alone is submitting the resolution rather than the 27-member European Union because Denmark has so far refused to back the measures.
Denmark generally aligns itself with pro-whaling nations because two of its territories, the Faroes and Greenland, have deeply rooted whaling traditions.
A much-touted attempt at the IWC's 2010 meeting in Agadir, Morocco, to bridge the decades-old divide between environmentalists and whale industry interests collapsed, and negotiators say no real compromise is in the offing this time.
© 2011 AFP