Chinese officials handle seized ivory carvings

Credit: Chinanews

China to end its ivory trade? We need substance, not ambiguity …

Last week, to great excitement and hype, China stated at a public ivory-destruction event that it will “strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted.”

EIA’s lack of a formal response to the announcement may have caused some speculation as to why among those familiar with our work and stance on ivory trade.

While we welcome both the destruction of 662kg of confiscated ivory in China and the statement made by Director Zhao Shucong of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) which identified several steps the Government of China plans to undertake to combat illegal wildlife trade, what does it actually mean for the country’s domestic ivory trade?

Although the Director made reference to the possibility that the ivory trade may eventually be halted, a step we would fully support, the commitment by the Government of China to tackle illegal trade in ivory – or its implied intent to close down all legal ivory markets within its territory – remains open to speculation, interpretation and spin.

With no detail or timeframe, the statement can only remain ambiguous, making congratulations and celebrations premature.

The precise policy implications of this statement remain unclear as currently the applicable laws and policies in China authorise domestic sales of ivory. In fact, on April 29 the SFA issued a new list of 34 ivory processing factories and 130 sales outlets, including entities associated with four publicly listed companies that have been officially authorised to process, manufacture and/or sell ivory in China.

These authorisations are valid until the end of 2016. Further, a group of companies release five tonnes of raw ivory from stockpile auctions into the market each year, typically at a substantially marked-up price.

EIA Executive Director Mary Rice said: “The Government of China could change the conservation landscape overnight by implementing an unequivocal ban on all ivory trade in the country. In doing so, it would become a champion of elephants everywhere and demonstrate what political will actually means; instead of a target of international anger and scorn, China would become an example to other consuming countries and to elephant range states which are complicit in the illegal trade by their own failure to meaningfully address the crisis.

“EIA will continue to work towards this goal and we call on the Government of China to demonstrate its commitment to the future of elephants everywhere – this would include prohibiting the processing, manufacture and sale of ivory in China, conducting DNA analysis of seized ivory and continuing to destroy stockpiles as best practice.”