The Japanese government has been accused for years of using official development
assistance (ODA) to recruit developing country members into the International Whaling
Commission (IWC) in support of its whaling interests. Attention has been drawn particularly
to fisheries grant aid and related technical cooperation administered primarily by Japan’s
Fisheries Agency.
In recent years, the number of developing countries joining the IWC and systematically
backing Japan’s position has increased to 16.1 Among them are six eastern Caribbean
islands, whose IWC voting records show a striking correlation between votes in support
of Japan’s interests and the flow of Japanese fisheries aid.2 With this support, Japan can
block the adoption by three-quarters majority of any binding measure not to its liking
and it is close to having a simple (51 per cent) majority with which to revise the IWC’s
rules of procedures, including the introduction of secret ballot voting on any issue – voting
is now by roll call – thus making it harder to hold individual governments accountable
for their positions.
The IWC’s US $33,000 annual membership fees for developing countries were reduced
in 2003 to US $17,000, still more than most of these states pay in contributions to the
UN and its agencies. These substantial fees continue to be paid regularly, which, when
viewed in tandem with the positions taken by these states in support of Japan’s whaling
industry, raises questions about motivations.
There is clear evidence that Japan has used promises of aid and threats of its withdrawal
to build a voting bloc that otherwise wouldn’t exist. In July 2000, Dominica’s minister for
environment, planning, agriculture and fisheries, Atherton Martin, resigned in protest at
his country’s vote against a South Pacific whale sanctuary proposal, because the negative
vote contravened a cabinet decision that Dominica should abstain. It was later revealed
that Japanese officials had visited the island and threatened to withdraw aid if Dominica
did not oppose the proposal.3
Although Japanese officials and their counterparts in recipient countries generally deny
vote buying, statements in the media support the allegations. Japan’s former vice minister
of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Hiraoki Kameya, said in June 1999 that it was ‘essential
to increase the number of nations supportive to Japan … [and therefore] necessary to
couple effectively the ODA and the promotion of IWC membership’.4 Antigua’s prime
minister Lester Bird was even more direct: ‘I make no bones about it … if we are able to
support the Japanese and the quid pro quo is that they are going to give us some assistance
… that is part of why we do so.’5

Since 1987 when it began, Japan’s grant aid to the eastern Caribbean IWC members
has totalled US $190 million in the fisheries sector alone, representing more than 96 per
cent of Japan’s overall grant aid to each of these six small island states; some 22 fisheries
complexes have been built or promised as a result. This aid programme was analysed by
economist Bernard Petitjean Roget in 2002. Noting that the fishing industry in these
countries amounts to 1–2 per cent of GDP, he comments that with such sizeable contributions
some tangible developments in the fishing sector should be expected, but he
finds no evidence ‘to suggest that this aid package is bringing any convincing results to
bear on this economic sector’.6
He also judges that the construction budgets of some complexes were greater than
could be justified by the actual facilities, raising questions about the final destination of
any excess funds. Moreover, the complexes are commonly located in the constituencies
of influential politicians. In Dominica, former minister Atherton Martin reported that ‘there
is a pattern here of aid … for projects that move around, depending on the location of
the prime minister’s constituency and not according to any reasoned plan for the
development of the fisheries sector’.7
While this is a difficult issue for the IWC to confront, it did pass a resolution in 2001
proposed by New Zealand that endorsed ‘the complete independence of sovereign
countries to decide their own policies and freely participate in the IWC (and other international
forums) without undue interference or coercion from other sovereign countries’.8
The real solution will come from within the countries concerned. In Japan, NGOs and
others are placing the ODA system under increasing scrutiny; an independent inquiry into
its use to support what Bernard Petitjean Roget calls ‘institutionalised corruption’ would
be timely.
Leslie Busby (Third Millennium Foundation, Italy)
Notes
1. As of July 2003, these states are: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Benin, Commonwealth of Dominica,
Gabon, Grenada, Republic of Guinea, Mongolia, Morocco, Nicaragua, Palau, Panama, St Kitts
and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands. Cape Verde and Ivory Coast
were present as observers.
2. Aid figures compiled from Japan’s ministry of foreign affairs statistics. See ‘Briefing on Japan’s
Vote-Buying Strategy in the International Whaling Commission’, Third Millennium Foundation,
Paciano, Italy, May 2002, available from www.3mf.org
3. A full account of this episode, and an analysis of the issue and what it represents for Dominica,
can be found in Atherton Martin’s ‘Statement on IWC 2001’, published as one of a series of
discussion papers by the Dominica Academy of Arts and Sciences. See www.daacademy.
org/whaling.html
4. Suisan Keizai Shimbun, 24 June 1999 (translation), speech to the press club of Japan’s ministry of
agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
5. Interview with CANA news service, 14 July 2001.
6. Bernard Petitjean Roget, ‘Socio-Economic and Political Aspects of the Aid Provided by Japan to
the Fishing Industry in the Small Independent Islands in the East Caribbean’, October 2002.
Published by the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness, Martinique and the
Swiss Coalition for the Protection of Whales, Wadeswil, Switzerland. The full report is available
on the websites of both organisations: www.eccea.org and www.asms-swiss.org
7. Martin, ‘Statement on IWC 2001’.
8. This resolution on ‘Transparency within the IWC’ was predicated on the 1970 ‘Declaration on
Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in
Accordance with the United Nations Charter’.

 

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