• Kyodo

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U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta was to recommend that President Bill Clinton slap Japan with economic sanctions due to its expanded whaling program, U.S. government officials said Tuesday.

In a report to be submitted to Clinton on Wednesday, Mineta maintains that Japan’s new whaling operations, for what it calls scientific purposes, have been offsetting efforts by the International Whaling Commission to manage whale resources. , the officials said. Mineta was to announce the recommendation at a news conference at around 11 a.m. Wednesday, the officials said.

U.S. law empowers the commerce secretary to recommend the president take punitive measures, including an import curb, against a country judged to be endangering marine resources.

The recommendation by Mineta would be the third of its kind made by a commerce secretary regarding Japan’s whaling. Two prior ones — in 1987 and 1995 — were dismissed.

Clinton has 60 days to decide whether to go ahead with the sanctions following the recommendation.

Japan plans to include in this year’s so-called scientific whaling program a plan to catch 10 sperm and 50 Bryde’s whales, on top of 100 minke whales.

Despite the “scientific” tag, the meat from these catches reportedly winds up on the tables of posh restaurants.

Washington says it does not see the catching of minke whales as a problem but opposes the hunting of sperm and Bryde’s whales, maintaining the species are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The U.S. also says sperm whales are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Four Japanese whaling vessels left Japan in late July under the new program and are operating in the Northwestern Pacific, despite Clinton’s personal appeal to Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori that Japan reconsider the plan.

The Fisheries Agency has said Japan is unilaterally resuming hunting of the two protected species because scientific data suggest their populations have recovered sufficiently to allow the catches.

Japan gave up “commercial” whaling in compliance with an international moratorium in 1986 but has engaged in “research” whaling since 1987, exploiting a loophole under an international treaty.

The U.S. has blasted Japan’s research as a cover for commercial whaling, pointing out the meat ends up in the marketplace for human consumption.

Last month, Washington announced a set of protest actions, including the cancellation of regular bilateral fisheries talks. , a boycott of two environmental meetings in Japan and opposition to Japan’s hosting of an IWC gathering next year. During his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington on Monday, Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said Tokyo would take action under international laws should the U.S. impose trade sanctions on whaling.

Japan’s action could include lodging a complaint with the World Trade Organization, according to a Japanese official.

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