CITES Standing Committee releases ivory to China - world’s largest illegal market

Wednesday, 16 July, 2008
Geneva, Switzerland
The 57th session of the Standing Committee for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ruled today that China is fit to become a trading partner for 119 tons (108 tonnes) of elephant ivory which has been put up for sale from four southern African nations. This sum represents the deaths of over 10,000 African elephants. China is known to be the world’s largest illegal ivory market, remaining evidenced by several multiple ton seizures made at Chinese ports in recent years.
Significant amounts of ivory in these stocks to be exported from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, have been collected through culling, which is defined as killing as a means to address population control, and also natural deaths. However, conservation organizations claim that although the ivory was not obtained through illegal poaching activities, legal sales only prompt poachers to launder in their illegal stocks.
Peter Pueschel, Program Director for the leading elephant protection organization International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – and one of its few representatives at CITES, raised an intervention on the floor objecting to China’s designation. “…Allowing new ivory to be imported into China will stimulate demand and create loopholes for illegal ivory to be laundered into the legal market, to be sold in stores or online to Chinese citizens or foreigners,” said Pueschel.
The intervention cited several statistics from IFAW’s 2007 China ivory trade poll report which highlights the low awareness of the current ivory control system in China, and also citizens’ unwillingness to comply with this framework. According to the report, among the 14.5 per cent that were actual admitted consumers of ivory, 75.7 per cent would willingly violate the control system in order to obtain ivory at a cheaper price.
Earlier this month, in Mombasa, Kenya, 18 African elephant range states came together for the second African Elephant Coalition (AEC) meeting and discussed why China was unfit to be a trading partner for the huge ivory sales. All countries were in agreement that China should not be designated.
Michael Wamithi, Program Director for IFAW’s global elephants program, and former director of Kenya Wildlife Service, closely followed the proceedings of this meeting and also feels that in no way should China have been accepted. “There remain to be an estimated 20,000 elephants slaughtered annually for the trade in their tusks. Poaching has reached a level surpassing that which was experienced before the initial 1989 ban on the ivory trade. African elephant range states clearly do not have the capacity or resources to combat these massive attacks on their countries’ wildlife heritage and the burgeoning markets in China are only fueling these attacks. It is our duty as a civil society to step in and mitigate these inequities.”
“The Standing Committee is clearly ignoring China’s domestic markets which are out of control. The international trade in ivory simply cannot be justified by a perceived short-term gain. Not only are elephants a keystone species, but African tourism relies on their existence. To toy with that is to toy with the livelihoods of the citizens within these poor African nations,” continued Pueschel.
Before today’s decision, Japan was the sole country approved by CITES as a trading partner for these ivory stocks – despite much evidence that the domestic market is not under control. These sales will be the second time in nearly two decades that the international sale in ivory has been authorized since the ban by CITES in 1989.
In 1989, CITES Parties listed the African elephant on Appendix I, effectively prohibiting all international trade in elephants and their derivatives, including ivory, but in 1997 this was resanctioned and certain populations were down-listed to Appendix II, allowing certain trade with special permissions from CITES.
One year ago, a suspension of at least nine years on international elephant ivory trade was approved at the 14th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, coming into affect after the stockpiles sales are completed.

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