Vietnam’s new wildlife trade crackdown is a positive step but must not be another empty promise

Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, on Thursday pledged to step up his country’s fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

His formal directive is significant because it recognises the role of wildlife trade and farming in the spread of zoonotic diseases – those arising from animals – such as the coronavirus and it suspends imports of wildlife (alive or dead) into Vietnam, subject to certain broad exemptions.

It also provides new impetus for the enforcement of existing laws and policies by calling for:

  • the disbandment of markets where illegal wildlife trade has been found to take place;
  • strictly controlling illegal “hunting, catching, buying, selling, transporting, slaughtering, consuming, storing, advertising and abusing of wildlife”;
  • crackdowns on transnational organised crime networks.

Given the rampant use of online channels for facilitating illegal wildlife trade, EIA welcomes the commitment to curb online advertising, buying and selling of wildlife.

The directive also targets “consumption” of wildlife by tasking Government ministries to strengthen punishments for the illegal consumption of wild animals.

Yet, as highlighted by local NGO Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, it appears to exempt the use of wildlife of legal origin in traditional medicines, which is a significant loophole.

Crucially, the Prime Minister’s directive recognises the role of corruption by calling on Government officials and their relatives to refrain from participating in illegal wildlife trade and imposes strict penalties on those who “conspire and take advantage of their positions and powers” to commit wildlife crime.

Specific ministries have been tasked to advise the Prime Minister on plans to destroy Vietnam’s large stockpiles of confiscated ivory and rhino horn. EIA welcomes this initiative and further urges the Government to ensure such destruction follows a comprehensive and transparent audit of all stocks.

EIA remains concerned about the rapid proliferation of organised Vietnamese wildlife trafficking networks driving illegal wildlife trade globally. The number of successful prosecutions in Vietnam resulting in deterrent sentences has increased with the advent of the new Penal Code, with four traders of ivory and pangolin scales jailed for between 10-16 years this month.

But although Vietnam leads the pack in the Mekong, such efforts need to be urgently expanded to effectively stop the flow of large volumes of illegal ivory and pangolin scales, entering and leaving the country.

Shruti Suresh, our Senior Wildlife Campaigner, said: “We welcome this as a positive step in the right direction, but words alone will be unable to turn the tide against wildlife crime in Vietnam.

“The high-level commitments announced by the Prime Minister should be backed by urgent multi-agency enforcement action on the ground to tackle the criminality and corruption associated with illegal wildlife trade.”

With an eye on International Tiger Day this Wednesday (29 July), EIA also welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitment to review tiger farming in Vietnam.

Debbie Banks, our Tiger and Wildlife Crime Campaign Leader, said: “Backyard operations in Vietnam, particularly in Nghe An province, are involved in the illegal import, keeping, breeding and trading of tigers and have so far been able to operate above the law. Even the owners of licensed zoos have been convicted of tiger trade.

“The Government of Vietnam must adopt urgent measures to phase out tiger farms in the country and take more effective action to end the trade in tiger parts and derivatives such as ‘tiger bone glue’.”

In recent years, several important commitments have been made by the Government of Vietnam to tackle illegal wildlife trade and during the coming months, EIA will continue to closely monitor the significant role of Vietnam in wildlife trafficking to assess whether the Prime Minister’s Directive is yet another empty promise or if it is indeed a harbinger of real change on the ground.