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Editors’s note:Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat.

It’s not often that the leader of a small country is bold enough to resist the desires of larger or richer countries. But, Dominica’s Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerritt, did just that on March 23rd.

Speaking in Dominica’s Capital, Roseau, at the opening of an Environmental Conference entitled, “International Ocean Life Symposium”, the Prime Minister declared that his government will no longer be supporting the whale-killing position of the Japanese government in the International Whaling Commission (IWC). He said that his government will be acting in his country’s “national interest”.
 
For several years now, it has been alleged that several Caribbean countries – the members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and Suriname – have been supporting Japan at the IWC because the Japanese Whaling Association (JWA) provided them with fish refrigeration facilities.  It has also been claimed in British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programmes that the JWA paid the IWC membership fees for some of these countries as well as the cost of their delegations’ attendance.

These claims were upheld in Dominica by environmentalists who have followed closely the country’s participation in IWC meetings.  Among these persons is a former Environment Minister of a Dominica government, Atherton Martin, who resigned in 2000 in protest over the issue.
 
In the same year, a, senior official of the Fisheries Agency of Japan, Maseyuku  Komatsu, stated on Australian television that a number of countries have accepted aid in return for backing Japan’s efforts to get commercial whaling restarted and described aid as “a major tool”.
 
Komatsu’s remark that aid “is a major tool” is instructive.  That is a reality with which small countries have to contend. 

The less well-off the country is, the more vulnerable it is to pressures and trade-offs from donor nations.  In the case of Dominica, it is the least well-off of the OECS countries, even though it is a breathtakingly beautiful island, relatively unspoilt, lush, green and diverse in its natural attractions such as rain forests, revitalizing sulphur springs, waterfalls and original people in their traditional habitat.
 
The island lost its preferential market in the European Union (EU) for its vital banana exporting industry, compliments of a challenge at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) by the US government and several Latin American nations whose competing banana industry was owned by US-based corporations that contributed campaign financing to President Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party. 
 
Dominica’s already impoverished circumstances simply grew worse. It is, therefore, easy to appreciate why any Dominica government might look favourably on support for any large country’s position if aid is given as a benefit of such support.
 
A Japanese Associate Professor, arguing on the JWA platform, says: “Many of the countries supporting Japan are developing countries. They are seeking their own food in the sea and are trying to earn foreign currency through exports of marine products. They find themselves in a position where they should firmly oppose the moves to hamper the sustainable development of their resources.”  This argument falls down because, apart from the tiny community on the island of Bequia in St Vincent and the Grenadines, whale meat is not part of the Caribbean diet. 
 
Further, while it would be beneficial if small Caribbean countries could indeed export their marine products, they lack both the commercial facilities and the transportation for large exports.  Many of the refrigeration facilities they have received from the Japanese are even now rusting along many shore lines.  Then, of course, there is the reality that huge commercial trawlers, including from Japan, have been sucking up fish stocks for years.
 
In his presentation to the Dominica Conference on March 23rd, Prime Minister Skerritt recalled that last year his government “had taken a very bold decision after many decades of supporting the whaling issue to steer clear of voting for whaling”, and he emphasised to the gathering that his government would not renege on that commitment. Underscoring the commitment, the Minister of Legal Affairs and Tourism, Ian Douglas, reconfirmed his government’s whale conservation policy to the Conference on the same day that the Dominica government signed an agreement with Japan to fund another fisheries complex in the town of Portsmouth. 
 
The Conference was organized by the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness (ECCEA) and the Pew Environment Group, in coordination with the Caribbean Environment Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme.  Its attendees gave Skerritt a standing ovation, I suspect as much over the delight they felt at his declared commitment as over their appreciation that he gave it at the price of some portion of aid – however small – to his country.

Skerritt said that he is acting in “the national interest”.  Clearly, he believes that Dominica’s interest does not coincide with Japan’s on this issue.  He has good reason for that belief.  Dominica promotes itself as “the nature isle” – the environment, including the sea and all that it possesses, is what the island has to offer to the tourist industry it’s trying to develop.
 
It would be incongruous if the island held itself out to be environmentally correct at home, yet supported whale-killing abroad.  It certainly would not gain and retain the support of the influential international environmental groups that applauded him so fully when he committed his government not to support whaling in the future.
 
Many of the groups recognise that their support has to be translated into practical action.  The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has already given pragmatic support to a group called “Carib Whale”.  Members of the group in the Windward Islands, including Dominica, now operate whale-watching operations for tourists earning about US$22 million a year for the four countries involved.
 
Governments also have to help. Some governments have started.   The Brazilian Government will open an Embassy in Dominica and has pledged to support the island as a tourist destination for Brazilians.  Under the Tourism Sector Development Programme, a two-year programme financed under the EU’s Special Framework of Assistance, US$3.87 million has been pledged for the development of rural tourism, linkages with agriculture and increased destination marketing.
 
But more has to be done.  The international financial institutions have to step up the plate to provide greater assistance with far less onerous conditionalities to allow Dominica to stand prouder than it does now in declaring its independent position on whaling.

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean diplomat who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com

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Posted in Caribbean Net News

The Caribbean countries that helped Japan win a narrow victory at the International Whaling Commission could face a backlash from environmentally concerned tourists.

The six countries, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, joined 27 other states in voting to end the moratorium on hunting whales, the Los Angeles Times reported. The resolution passed 33-32, but that vote does not actually end the hunting ban.

Are we trying to portray the Caribbean as eco-friendly or are we’re very much into conservation? These are the questions we should ask ourselves.

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amy Whale, breaching, Stellwagen Bank National...

The 58th Annual Commissioners Meeting of the International Whaling Commission IWC begins in St Kitts on Friday and Antigua and Barbuda will reportedly support its Caribbean and international partners towards the “normalization” of the International Whaling Commission.

Antigua and Barbuda’s Commissioner, Ambassador Anthony Liverpool will join with other Caribbean and International partners in deliberating on a wide range of scientific and administrative issues relevant to the functioning of the IWC.“As a member of IWC, Antigua and Barbuda is well placed to support the harvesting of whales through the establishment of proper scientific management systems.

“The Whaling Commission has the management authority only for the 13 species of large whales including the humpback whale harvested by the people of Bequia and according to scientific data, several of these whale stocks are abundant and that the take of a relatively small number for food in areas such as the north Atlantic, north Pacific, the Caribbean and the Antarctic will not affect the nature or abundance of whale resources or whale-watching opportunities”, Liverpool said.

He noted that as a small island state Antigua and Barbuda build alliances with international partners who respect our cultural values and support our efforts to develop the country’s fisheries sector.

“Our position is very clear and we will continue to support the sustainable utilization of marine resources including marine mammals in a way and at a rate that will ensure that it lasts for generations to come”, he pointed out.

Liverpool further stated that although he respects the views of those persons who are opposed to whaling, he is disappointed in the level of propaganda and disinformation that is used to generate emotional discourse and threats against the government and people of Antigua and Barbuda.

“As a tourist destination we welcome visitors from all over the world irrespective of their views and aspiration in life and therefore expect international organizations and individuals who disagree with our position to have some respect for our views and desist from making threats against our livelihood”, Liverpool said.

“As indicated before, our position at IWC is based on tolerance and respect for cultural values, the right of fisher folk to earn a living and adherence to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) and other relevant national and international law such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) as well as the need for science-based management, policy and rule-making”, he added.

“I believe that it is time for the IWC to move toward more productive and meaningful discussions that will bring the organization back to its fundamental purpose of regulating catch quotas at levels so that whale stocks will not be threatened”, he said.

Liverpool indicated that, though Antigua and Barbuda is not engaged in nor has a tradition of whaling, access to its marine resources, including large whales which form part of the vast marine resources, is a fundamental right that should be protected by all coastal states.

He noted that IWC adopts resolutions relating to marine pollution, maritime transport, fisheries by catch, whale watching, the catching of small whales and dolphins and similar issues of direct interest to Caribbean people, some of which are considered to be outside the competence of the IWC.

This means that the sovereign rights of Antigua and Barbuda in matters of fisheries, maritime shipping and oil and gas exploration can be affected in the long term

Posted By: Caribbean Net News

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