Once again Japan is under fire for its trade policy. But this time the heat is on its imports, not for its voluminous exports. The World Wildlife Fund says that Japan is the world's largest consumer of endangered species. William Reilly, president of the WWF's United States branch, says that even though Japan is a signatory to international agreements protecting plants and animals in danger of extinction, the Japanese show a ``lack of serious commitment to the implementation [of the agreements].''
Japanese policy permits the import of 14 endangered species, including whales, sea turtles, and lizards, for commercial use. In the first four months of this year, an estimated 54,400 Himalayan Musk deer, a protected species native to Nepal, Bhutan, and India, were killed to support Japanese imports of musk pods used for traditional medicines, says the WWF.
``World opinion is turning increasingly impatient,'' said Mr. Reilly. When representatives of the 95 signatory nations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meet next month in Canada, Japan ``will be singled out as a major violator of the treaty,'' he said.
Beyond censure, economic sanctions are possible. ``I anticipate a strong call for retaliatory measures should Japan ... remain passive,'' says Donald Carr, the chief of the Wildlife and Marine Resources section of the US Justice Department.
Japanese officials dispute the charge that they are the largest importer of CITES-protected wildlife. According to officials of the Japanese Environment Agency, the CITES secretariat ``has no data'' to back up that claim.
The officials acknowledge that there are problems in implementing import regulations, but point to a recent law providing penalties for the illegal trade.