Recently, a US-backed proposal to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna was “resoundingly defeated” by the United Nations at the latest Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Doha, Qatar. The vote was 60 to 20 against, with 30 ironic European abstentions. The principal opponent was Japan, a nation that consumes 3/41 of the world-wide bluefin tuna catch, and 1/4 of all tuna in general.
While early projections pointed to the easy passage of a proposal to ban the export of Atlantic bluefin tuna–a result that would have stung Japan as the main importer of the prized fish–some shrewd behind-the-scenes maneuvering set the stage for the proposal’s demise.
The beginning of the end for the proposal led by Monaco and the European Union was triggered by an outburst from the Libyan delegate at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES.
At a committee meeting Thursday in the Qatari capital, the Libyan delegate shouted his objection to the U.S.-backed proposal, saying it was “part of a conspiracy of developed countries.” His comment was a direct appeal to anti-West sentiment among developing countries.
Starting to sound familiar yet?
The Libyan representative then called for the discussion to be wound up and an immediate vote held. The proposal to ban bluefin trade was then rejected.
However, Japan can take some credit for nudging Libya along on this matter.
Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor of the Fisheries Agency, secretly visited Libya to solicit the North African country’s support in opposing the bluefin tuna export ban at the CITES conference.
Though Libya initially had little more than a passing interest in the issue, Japan managed to persuade it to support Japan’s stance.
International meetings often expose confrontations between industrialized and developing countries. Japan’s interests usually run counter to those of developing countries. But this time, the government made meticulous preparations for the meeting and capitalized on developing countries’ frustrations against decision-making led by the United States and European countries.
This tactic worked brilliantly and led to the decision that Japan had been hoping for at the meeting.
Man, the last time I heard of the Libyans, they were demanding their nuclear bomb from Doc Brown.
In addition to Libya, though, both China and South Korea voted against the proposal as well.
Why China? For those of you who watch television, you might have seen a WildAid commercial featuring Yao Ming. He’s dining at a fancy schmancy restaurant and is served a bowl of Shark Fin Soup, well-known as a Chinese delicacy. At this point, he notices a shark in the fancy schmancy restaurant’s indoor aquarium but, get this, it’s bleeding profusely from the stump that was its fin. Despite the fact that a restaurant isn’t likely to throw the shark back in, bleeding profusely, as if it’d whet the appetites of its customers, the point is dramatically well made. Seeking to avoid possible regulation of the shark trade, China opposed the attempt to regulate the bluefin tuna trade.
Environmentalists — particularly American environmentalists — are understandably not too happy with this defeat.
From The Economist:
According to David Allison of OCEANA, a marine charity, the Libyan delegate started “screaming and calling everyone liars…He said the science was no good and that it was part of a conspiracy of developed countries. It was theatre. Then he stopped screaming and called for an immediate vote”.
Ah, the delicious conspiracy of developed countries. Indeed.
But what are we really seeing here? Is it so simple as “dammit, these fish are threatened with extinction but those selfish, greedy Japanese people don’t care and have tricked a bunch of other distasteful countries into going against what is morally right!”?
Japanese people eat a lot of bluefin tuna. They have this thing about eating raw fish. I hear it’s pretty popular amongst other countries now. Libya, and 30 European countries, plus Canada…well, commercial fishing is a big part of how they make a living.
A lot of people interpret, decry, and/or present these things in single-issue terms, often abundantly lathered with moral posturing and finger pointing. This is, of course, great for rallying your troops, fermenting their indignation. Unfortunately, this is not so great when it comes to explaining what the hell is going on, what the hell happened, and why. But that’s the nature of politics, isn’t it?
The narrative here is familiar. There’s East versus West, developing countries versus developed countries, economic interests versus environmental interests…Copenhagen anyone?
This is politics, and the Libyan delegate was playing it, just as environmentalists do. Instead of exploiting moral indignation over extinction or emissions or global warming, there’s exploiting moral indignation over developed nations seemingly making the decisions for everyone else.
And when you boil it down, this is countries looking after their geo-political interests. This is governments building alliances with those that share the same interests. This is people looking to exchange support for what matters to them.
This is democratic.