As the global ivory trade ban nears its 30th anniversary, antiques dealers in the UK are seeking to roll back a near-total domestic ban – if they succeed, effectively gifting ivory traffickers a local loophole to exploit.
The UK ban only came into effect in December last year, but already a group with vested commercial interests is challenging it via a judicial review in the High Court.
In 1989, it was our shocking revelations of the horrific scale and destruction of the illegal ivory trade which played the major role in persuading Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to uplist elephants to the highest level of protection and to ban international ivory trade.
The ban worked, thanks in no small part to the attendant global publicity which did much to convince people that trade was both harmful and, now, illegal. As a result, the poaching epidemic ravaging Africa subsided, ivory prices tumbled and ivory markets around the world – most in the USA and Europe – closed.
However, the ’89 ban wasn’t comprehensive, allowing trade in ‘antique’, or pre-Convention, ivory to continue, along with domestic ivory markets.
In 2017, our research revealed that the UK was the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory and, in particular, it was the largest exporter of legal ivory to the illegal trade hotspots of Hong Kong and China.
We spearheaded a coalition of partners calling for a comprehensive UK ban and following a Government consultation in which more than 70,000 people and organisations participated, with more than 88 per cent in favour of a ban, the Ivory Bill received Royal Assent on 20 December 2018 to become the Ivory Act.
Now, just a day short of the ’89 ban’s 30th anniversary, a company of antiques dealers and collectors called the Friends of Antique Cultural Treasures Ltd (FACT) is due to have its day in court on 16 October for a judicial review of the UK’s near-total ban on ivory trade.
Underlining the ironic timing on the eve of Brexit (possibly), the company is taking the Government to court to have the ban overturned for not complying with European law.
Despite the ease with which poached ivory can be artificially aged and laundered into trade, these businesses want the Ivory Act changed to allow them to go back to dealing in pre-1947 ivory – even though polls show 85 per cent of the British public wants to end UK ivory trade and more than 100,000 people signed a Parliamentary petition calling for the same.
Prior to the ban, ivory sales accounted for less than one per cent of annual sales in many UK auction houses.
FACT contends that the UK Ivory Act takes away the level playing field as the rest of the EU still permits legal ivory trade, although the European Commission is also considering a change in the law in line with the UK’s initiative.
• Make your voice heard and join the protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London from 9am on 16 October 2019.