From: Associated Press
Published July 24, 2006 12:00 AM

New Zealand Lawmaker to Take Japan Envoy on Whale-Watching Trip

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Japan's ambassador will take a whale-watching tour in New Zealand this week, a government spokesman said Monday, as Tokyo tries to win international support for a resumption of commercial whaling.

New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter will accompany Amb. Masaki Saito on Thursday's trip to the town of Kaikoura on South Island, where a Maori tribe operates a whale-watching business catering to about 300,000 tourists a year, said Carter's spokesman, Nick Maling.

New Zealand is a bitter opponent of Japan's whaling program -- permitted by the International Whaling Commission for scientific research -- and of its drive to resume commercial whaling, which was banned by the IWC in 1986.

Maling stressed that the trip is part of an education program for diplomats and visitors on New Zealand's conservation work, and that other Asian envoys also will be attending Thursday's tour.

"New Zealand and Japan have a very good relationship on a number of issues," he said. "There is a point of difference on whaling, and it's very important that they keep talking about it, but this trip is not designed to be focused on this particular issue."

New Zealand has stressed the value of whale-watching eco-tourism ventures as an alternative to whaling.

Norway, Japan and Iceland currently hunt whales, the latter two under the auspices of the whaling commission's scientific research program, which critics call a sham. Norway ignores the IWC ban altogether.

The countries inched closer toward their goal of overturning the 20-year ban on commercial whale hunts at an IWC meeting last month. A symbolic resolution endorsing a resumption of commercial whaling passed with a one-vote margin.

Japan plans to host a meeting of pro-whaling nations early next year to help consolidate its gains and move toward the 75 percent majority necessary to overturn the IWC ban.

Source: Associated Press

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