CITES Standing Committee releases stockpiles to Japan and makes mockery of system

Saturday, 2 June, 2007
The Hague, Netherlands
Conservation organizations, including IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - are dismayed at a decision taken today in the 54th session of the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that disregards evidence of Japan’s broken domestic regulatory system on ivory trade and instead officially releases 60 tonnes of stockpiled ivory for importation to that country.
The sale of the 60 tonne stockpiles approved in 2002 at the 12th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP) was contingent upon certain conditions being met, including the availability of baseline and comparative data from the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants system (MIKE). It is widely accepted that MIKE is a long way away from achieving the information goals for which it was created.
But an investigative report released by IFAW last week into Japan’s domestic ivory trade controls details significant loopholes in the Japanese system that allow illegal ivory derived from elephants poached in the wild to be laundered in astronomical sums into the legal domestic ivory market.
“This decision is a disgrace in light of evidence that Japan clearly fails to meet the bar set by the CITES framework for such sales,” says Peter Pueschel, Program Manager for IFAW’s Protection of Wildlife from Commercial Trade program.  “The Standing Committee is disregarding this evidence just as it ignores  that the 2.8 tonne seizure of contraband ivory in Osaka in August of last year never happened.  This is slap in the face to CITES Parties who comply with CITES obligations,” he added.
At the 54th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC) in October 2006, delegates and conservation organizations were caught off-guard by a last-minute decision recommending Japan as a trading partner for the stockpiles.  This decision was made without the knowledge of the recent 2.8 tonne seizure of contraband ivory in Osaka, which the Japanese did not disclose until after the meeting of the SC. 
IFAW is also dismayed at the SC’s adoption of the report submitted by the Secretariat on the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) system.  “The submission of the report a mere three days before the Standing Committee meeting has pre-empted any possibility for the required peer review,” Pueschel says. 
Between August 2005 and August 2006, more than 26 tonnes of ivory were seized and customs officials estimate that 90% of contraband products pass over borders undetected.  Meanwhile, the price of ivory has skyrocketed in the past decade, from US$500 per kilo in Japan in 1994 to it’s current record price of US$850 per kilo.  The financial incentive to poach is the driving force behind the slaughter of at least 20,000 elephants annually, a situation that stands to impact on the balance of local ecosystems and communities’ ability to survive.
“Europe, and Germany in particularly given its seat as current EU President, must now take responsibility for the inevitable increase in the killing of both elephants and the humans charged to protect them,” says Pueschel.  “They should now be prepared to cover the expenses of enhanced enforcement that will be critical to responding to increases in poaching.”
Over 26 tonnes of elephant ivory was seized between August 2005 and August 2006, which is the highest annual seizure rate witnessed since the 1989 CITES ban went into effect. In addition, enforcement authorities estimate that nearly 90 per cent of contraband slips through controls undetected.

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