printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

International Whaling Commission's Proposal to Limit Commercial Whaling

FPC Briefing
Cristián Maquieira
Chair, International Whaling Commission
Monica Medina, U.S. Commissioner, International Whaling Commission
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
May 27, 2010

Date: 05/27/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Cristián Maquieira, Chair, International Whaling Commission and Monica Medina, U.S. Commissioner, International Whaling Commission brief on the International Whaling Commission's proposal to limit commercial whaling at the Washington Foreign Press Center.  - State Dept Image


MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Today, we have two speakers with us to talk about the International Whaling Commission’s proposal to limit commercial whaling, and specifically, the upcoming meeting that will take place in Morocco on June 21st to the 25th.

First, we have Ambassador Cristián Maquieira, who is the chair of the International Whaling Commission, and we also have with us Monica Medina, the U.S. Commissioner for the International Whaling Commission and Commerce Department Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere.

First, the ambassador will make some remarks and then Ms. Medina, and then they will take your questions. At that time, I ask that you state your name and media organization. Thank you.


AMBASSADOR MAQUIEIRA: Thank you very much. Thank you for coming. I will make some brief comments and then I will take questions as you want them.

The reason we have put forward this proposal, which has generated a lot of interest, is because for a few years now, both commissioners have come to the conclusion that the IWC is not working as it should. The IWC as an organization has no control over whaling whatsoever except indigenous whaling, has – is unable to put forward proposals of a conservation nature. It is divided and it’s internally between two groups who have different emphases on how to approach this issue. And therefore, it was felt that we should start a process towards bringing whaling under control of the IWC, bring it – having the IWC work within a consensus that allows for the mandate that it has been granted by the convention to be implemented.

And so starting in Santiago in 2008, a process which had been discussed in different manners as far back as Anchorage began to gel into an organized process with groups established to explore the possibilities of getting – arriving at a legal sense. Initially, this work was to be done basically on a procedural nature, meaning to change the way the IWC worked in such a manner that some of the confrontation could be reduced. But slowly and inexorably, we began to discover that unless we address some of the substantive differences and complications of the IWC, we would not achieve what we are looking for.

In Santiago, a working group was set up, an agenda was given to the working group with a mandate to produce a proposal to be considered by the plenary of the IWC in Madeira. The work appeared to be a lot more complicated than it seemed. At the beginning, we were given 33 items to discuss. Some of them were banal and I would say a normal feature of the work of the IWC, and some of the more complicated issues were involved there. We did not arrive at any progress there.

So we set up a different group, a smaller group made of 12 countries composed by essentially all those who matter in the whaling activity to continue the exploration of the possibility of elaborating a proposal to be considered this time at Agadir in a month’s time.

The outcome of that process is yet to be seen because we reached a point in Washington about a month ago where, while the basic components of what the new IWC would look like had been put in place, the fundamental element of how to deal with the whaling issue was yet to be decided. Now, while there is a proposal, as you’ve seen, in the draft which calls for an agreement of reduced – considerably reduce the current whaling in exchange for limited whaling authorization, what makes that proposal live or die is the numbers attached to it. And while there were intense consultations on that particular issue, no basis of consensus was possible.

So they looked to the chair, which is the usual procedure in most multilateral negotiations, to see if he could come up with something that would allow for the process to continue, which is what the current proposal that’s on the table, document IWC-7, does.

Now, that proposal is simply a means to continue the negotiation, and this has to be stated very clearly because there’s a perception out there that this is kind of a take-it-or-leave-it document or that some agreement has been done around that document and therefore what we will do in Agadir is simply ratify that agreement. That is not at all the case. This is a proposal yet to be negotiated in all its parts. The numbers that have been put there in terms what can be caught and what should not be caught are of a indicative nature to allow countries to continue the process of negotiation. And this will be dealt with in Agadir.

Another point I want to make very clear is that that proposal doesn’t reflect anybody’s point of view. There is no agreement around that proposal. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and by that I mean all membership of the IWC. And very importantly, more so, it does not reflect the position of the authors of the proposal, which is the vice chair, Mr. Anthony Liverpool, and myself. We simply found ourselves with a deadline, the proposal had to be put forward two months in advance, and with a situation where there was no other recourse to continue the process unless the chairman put forward a paper which is – I mean, at this stage – simply a proposal yet to be negotiated in its entirety.

I’m optimistic that we will arrive at some understanding agreement in Agadir. I think the basic components of what the proposal pursues in terms of giving back to the IWC the powers and functions that you have are contained in the proposal itself, and – but the negotiation will be very, very complicated and very, I suspect, intense. But I do look forward to a positive outcome in Agadir. Thank you very much.

MS. MEDINA: Good morning. Again, my name is Monica Medina and I’m the U.S. Commissioner to the IWC. I want to begin by saying that the U.S. commends Chairman Maquieira for his leadership during this difficult time for the IWC and this most intense process. And I want to say that we, the U.S., agree with his assessment that the IWC is fundamentally broken and must be fixed.

The goal of the United States in this process has been, and will continue to be, to conserve whales. The Administration recognizes that there are significant benefits outlined in the proposal that has been put forward by the chair and vice chair of the commission. And we will continue to work with them on the proposal, but we don’t believe it’s in a place where we can accept it yet.

As you may know, the process began several years ago. The Obama Administration inherited the process. We joined it midstream. But we decided it would be best to try and work through the process to attempt to fix the IWC and to achieve the goal that we seek of greater conservation for whales. We’ve worked diligently alongside the chair and the other members of the commission who have been supporting him in this process and we will continue to work hard through the end of the annual meeting. We’ll continue to work to see if there’s a way to find a diplomatic solution.

That said, it must meet our objectives to improve the conservation of whales, to better coordinate research on whales, and to address new and emerging threats to cetaceans such as climate change and ocean noise. If we don’t see that the IWC is going to be able to do those things in this new – under the new agreement, we wouldn’t go forward with it. But we are hopeful and optimistic that we can reach agreement because the alternative is the status quo, which has been a deadlock in the IWC and a failure in the IWC to actually achieve our objectives as I just stated them.

So we will continue to work hard through this process. We, as I said, don’t believe the proposal as it’s currently drafted is sufficient, but we do believe it was a good basis for us to begin our negotiations in earnest. And we have about five weeks to go, and hopefully we’ll find a solution. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. With that, we’ll start the question-and-answer period. First question. Someone must have a question.

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Foster Klug with the Associated Press. Ms. Medina, can you talk a little bit more about specifically what the U.S. wants? You mentioned the three bullet points, but is there – are there quibbles with the numbers in the report? Can you be more specific about what you’re looking for? Thank you.

MS. MEDINA: Sure. We would like to see lower numbers. That’s clearly a very important objective. And whaling in sanctuaries is a very difficult prospect. And we would prefer to see no whaling in sanctuaries, frankly, and there is currently a lot of whaling that goes on in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. We don’t think that that’s appropriate. We also think that the numbers for the other whaling nations also need to come down in the proposal. We believe that there is another principle regarding international trade that’s very important. The current proposal has text that requires that any whale meat and whale products be used domestically by the countries that catch them, but it’s in brackets.

We also believe there’s one other important issue, which is to be clear about what would happen at the end of the 10-year period that’s covered by this agreement. The agreement was intended as a first step toward actually really fixing the IWC. The goal of the 10-year period is to actually renegotiate the convention itself, as many of the governments believe that the convention is outdated and needs to be made more relevant to the issues and problems facing whales today.

So the goal of the 10-year period would be to negotiate a new convention to eliminate some of the loopholes and problems that have caused the body to become so dysfunctional, to set forth a new agenda for the IWC, and to have the treaty go into effect before the end of the 10-year period. However, if that’s not possible – and there is a schedule set forth in the document that would require certain steps to be taken in order to meet that end, but if that weren’t possible – I think there is one remaining question about what would happen at the end of the 10-year period. A return to the status quo would be unacceptable. So we’d have to find something else.

MODERATOR: Are there any other questions? Please wait for the microphone.

QUESTION: I have a question for the chairman. Is there any reaction already from whaling countries, including Japan, to your proposal?

AMBASSADOR MAQUIEIRA: Well, they find the numbers too low. And contrary to what the U.S. expects, they want the numbers to go up. So what we’re doing here basically is trying to reach a situation where both whaling countries and conservationist countries are satisfied that each has obtained at least the minimum of what they want. This is, as somebody put it in one of our meetings – this is like doing a zebra. You have white stripes and you have black stripes, and the white stripes are the concessions you get and the black stripes are the concessions you give. And one would expect that at the end of the day you have equal number of stripes. But that is – what you put out is a core issue of this exercise, because whaling countries want the numbers to go up and conservationist countries want the numbers to go down. I’m taking bets on the outcome, if anybody’s interested. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Any other questions?

QUESTION: My name is Toshi Katsuda from Asahi Shimbun, Japanese daily newspaper. My question is for Ms. Medina. The U.S. Government – it’s stay on the same position that supposed to – moratorium, as strongly still? Is it the same?

MS. MEDINA: Yes, absolutely, the U.S. continues to support the moratorium. And in fact, one of the key elements of the proposal that makes it possible for us to even consider it is that the moratorium would not be lifted or waived , changed or amended. There wouldn’t be anything different going forward if this proposal were agreed to by the IWC. The moratorium remains in place and we, the US, would not support anything that didn’t do that. So yes, we remain strongly committed to the moratorium.

MODERATOR: All right. A follow-up?

QUESTION: But in the period in the moratorium – when the moratorium has been in place, a growing number of whales caught, the number growing, what should we do is the question.

MS. MEDINA: Well, I think that’s – the essence of this agreement would be recognizing that some whaling has been able to continue in the face of a moratorium. And the idea would be to cap that whaling and to get it under the IWC’s control so that it can be monitored, it can be – we can assure that we know where the whale products are going. I think some of you may be aware there was some whale meat that showed up in a sushi market in Los Angeles a few weeks ago.

We – I think the IWC would be in a much better position to really say they’re the preeminent organization for the management and conversation of whaling if they knew where that whale meat had come from. So we believe that international monitoring and oversight would be a big improvement in the ability of the IWC to get control over the whaling that does exist, even with a moratorium.

QUESTION: Another one for the ambassador: What explains your optimism if you have two sides that seems to be wanting opposite things? How do you feel that you can get an agreement that all sides are happy with?

AMBASSADOR MAQUIEIRA: Well, because all sides aren’t happy with what they have now. I mean, what give me some expectation that we might have some – we might have a good result is the fact that everybody reacted negatively against the proposal. And therefore, everybody saw the problems in the proposal for them. But nobody said we can’t negotiate on this basis.

They – so I think the proposal is balanced not only in terms of the issues that forces countries to deal with – as concessions to be given, but is also balanced in terms of the issues that countries receive as a – as concessions received. I mean, the proposal has a clear conservation focus, puts the IWC in a clear conservation mode, establishes a mechanism for control. So if you can agree on the numbers, it’s not just simply agreeing on the numbers and that’s it. You have an MSC; a monitoring and surveillance and control system will be put in place. You have observers on ships, observers at landing stations. You have a big organization structured around the control of whaling.

So if countries seem to be unhappy with the numbers, they really seem satisfied with other aspects of the proposal. And that is the core of an international negotiation. This is a very serious international negotiation with very serious interests at stake. And therefore, I am optimistic because I get the impression that people – bottom line, people will want to get an agreement around the paradigm that we are proposing.

MS. MEDINA: I can just add, from the U.S. perspective, agreeing to this proposal would not be easy, but it’s something we are going to continue in the diplomatic process in order to see if we can get to an agreement that we could accept ultimately. But I think the chair’s proposal did impose pain on both sides, and so we continue to work to see if we can further narrow the differences.

MODERATOR: Are there any other questions? Again.

QUESTION: I’m Toshi Katsuda again. I’m wondering, the implication of today’s press conference – I’m wondering, Chairman Maquieira is frank with Commissioner Medina, I think – I thought it is – it shows some progress of – in negotiation, something like that. It’s – I mean, did you feel some progress in negotiation? Or how do you describe the – why do you describe it’s hopeful or optimistic? Why?

AMBASSADOR MAQUIEIRA: Well, being the author of the proposal, if I thought it was dead in the water, I don’t think it would merit any effort. I think – I’m optimistic, first, because I’m – normally, I’m an optimistic person. I tend to see the glass half full rather than half empty.

Secondly, because although this is an issue that generates a lot of sentiment and a lot of passion – and passion and sentiment are not always helpful in international negotiation – if you look at it reasonably, there are components of this proposal which could be for the benefit of what we all want them to be, for the benefit of whales. What we’re trying to get here is to – people to move from pro-whaling or anti-whaling to pro-whales, as I read that – somewhere, I read that phrase and it stuck in my mind.

And so we’ve put forward a proposal where the elements are there to obtain that. Secondly, what makes the proposal difficult is that it forces a lot of people to face the reality. The reality is that by different means, whaling has not stopped. The moratorium has improved a lot of species, but whaling itself is not stopped. And so if you’re – you have a general feeling that the – a shared feeling that the IWC should focus on conservation and reduce whaling and hopefully, for some, stop it, this is a way to do it.

Now, it is a very difficult negotiation because it forces people to take issues that otherwise they would have preferred not to take, and therefore – but I think that this is a process put in a serious manner, to professional and well-experienced diplomats and negotiators. And I think that if we address the issue on its merits rather than labeling it what it intends to do or not intends to do, but basically taking the proposal on its merits, I have a lot of room to be optimistic. But I’m also concerned that it’s going to be a very difficult negotiation. Thank you.

MS. MEDINA: I would – I know I keep cutting in on you, Cristián. I would add that – I’m surprised the process has made it this far. And speaking for myself personally here, I think it had been two years with not a lot of progress, but there is a text now and that represents some significant work by a group of nations that were in support of the chair. And that group worked quite constructively and in good collaboration. I think if that can be the model for the IWC, it would significantly improve the organization.

MODERATOR: Are there any additional questions? All right. Well, thank you for coming today, and I thank the speakers for speaking with the group today.

# # #