China Gets Permission to Import Ivory From Africa

For background on this story, please see the previous CDT post, UN May Legalize Ivory Sales from Africa to China.

From Reuters:

China won the right at a U.N. wildlife meeting on Tuesday to import elephant ivory from Africa under strict conditions, a U.N. spokesman said.

Four countries — Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe — are permitted under a deal reached at The Hague last year to make one-off sales of registered ivory stocks.

“China was accepted as a trading partner to import ivory from the four authorised countries in southern Africa,” said Juan Carlos Vasquez of CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

To gain permission, Beijing had to prove it had the capacity to fight illegal domestic trade in ivory, which is used mainly in jewellery and carvings.

This was an outcome feared by many. As one example, here are excerpts from an opinion piece in The Independent published prior to the announcement today by the U.N wildlife meeting:

If the People’s Republic of China is licensed as an official buyer of elephant ivory at a UN meeting in Geneva today, it will be one of the biggest setbacks to have occurred in international wildlife conservation, and a dire threat to the future survival of elephants in the wild both in Africa and in Asia. […]

To allow it to do so would be disastrous. It does not matter how tight China’s enforcement procedures now are. Overnight the world market for ivory would balloon, providing myriad opportunities for illicit ivory to be laundered into the legal stock, and offering temptation to poachers right across Africa, where at least 20,000 elephants a year are currently being illegally killed.

Disturbingly, the British Government, which has a vote in the meeting, looks as though it will go along with China’s wishes. Yet ministers will not come clean about Britain’s voting intentions. […]

Britain should vote firmly against allowing China to buy ivory. If it does not, and the bad times return for yet another threatened species, at least we will know where responsibility lies.

July 15, 2008 3:52 PM