Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CITES - Better Still

Dr. Sidney Holt is ASOC's representative at meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and has decades of IWC experience. The following guest blog by Dr. Holt provides further information on the topic of transparency in international meetings. 

My good friend Peter Puerschel, who has been attending the CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva about which I wrote, ‘observing’ on behalf of IFAW, has clarified and put me right on a few things. Peter is always meticulous and prompt.

Norway changed its vote to favouring transparency, on a Point of Order, saying its delegate had not understood what was going on. That reminded me of an occasion long ago when I was attending a huge conference in FAO in Rome, when the delegate for Ecuador stood up, waving his arms at the interpreters all in their little boxes, shouting “When I say ‘no’, I mean ‘yes’ ”. Pandemonium! Two hours of procedural debate. Changing your mind publicly is a no-no in inter-governmental discourse and getting permission to do so normally requires itself a two-thirds majority vote. The delegate of Ecuador could, and did, try to blame the interpreters, but Norwegian diplomats – and even Norwegians generally - usually speak English better than most Brits. That excuse won’t wash this time.

Anyway the revised CITES vote was more than satisfactory. Only two others now favoured the Kuwaiti move – Dominica and Botswana (A real pity about Dominica; they have been quite good in the IWC lately). The Latin Americans who had supported Kuwait – Colombia and Costa Rica - abstained this time, along with three others including Japan. Roll call was 3:8 and the NGO observers were allowed back inside.

Peter clarified that the membership of the Standing Committee is 15 and they represent regional blocs, but delegates from many other Parties to CITES were attending, without votes.

This matter of transparency will be a major item at next year’s meeting of the IWC. Action on a UK proposal strongly supporting more transparency, presented in Jersey last July, was postponed in order to break a deadlock over the perhaps more pressing matter of stopping the corruption arising from some countries paying their IWC dues in bundles of cash or cheques drawn on private bank accounts. We all know what will be Japan’s position on transparency – it is even opposed to translucency - but it will be interesting to see what Colombia and Costa Rica do. Will they break from the Buenos Aires Group (BAG) consensus in favour of transparency?

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