Promising international steps on banning ivory trade - will the EU follow suit?

As global leaders move to shut down ivory markets, will the EU follow suit and listen to pleas from African nations for help in closing ivory trade?  The decision from the Government of China outlawing sales at the start of 2018, already shed light to the dark road to save elephants. “In the past year since the announcement of China’s ban, the ivory price has dropped across Asia”, says Grace Gabriel – Regional Director Asia at IFAW. “Shutting down ivory markets and enhancing enforcement increase the risks and reduce the profit for criminals to poach elephants and smuggle their ivory. Clear policies making ivory trade illegal in all circumstances also help reduce consumer demand by putting a stigma on ivory trade.”

China’s decision was also welcomed by Mr. Erik Solheim, Head of UN Environment who stated: “This is an historic step and may well be a turning point in our fight to save elephants from extinction. We need more countries and territories to follow suit.”

Just one month after this ban came into force, lawmakers in Hong Kong SAR, the world's largest ivory market, also voted last Wednesday in favor of gradually phasing out local ivory trade until 2021, imposing heavier penalties for offenders to a maximum fine of $1.3 million as well as maximum prison sentence of 10 years. “On the heels of mainland China implementing a complete ban on commercial ivory trade, Hong Kong SAR has also passed a law banning ivory trade on the island and increased penalties for violations”, Gabriel continues. “It is great news for elephants. It shows that more people around the world have come to realize a simple fact: Ivory trade anywhere threatens elephants everywhere.”


Bans on the ivory trade is definitely building momentum since 2016 when the Obama Administration in the United States, also enacted regulations to halt most imports and exports of ivory products, and limit interstate ivory sales to antique products and certain other items with small amounts of ivory. A near total ban was also introduced in France where certain exemptions were included to allow for the trading of objects made of carved ivory and carved rhinoceros horn produced before 1 July 1975, the day CITES entered into force.

Now, only time will tell if the UK will also take another landmark decision towards an ivory ban. The overwhelming majority of the 60,000 responses to the public consultation launched by the Government in 2017 is in support of an ivory ban. Subsequently in February 2018, the new UK-China action to end the illegal wildlife trade was announced. The final decision will definitely be relevant to the next Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference hosted by the Government of UK in October 2018.

“Fighting international ivory trafficking is a battle we can’t afford to lose,” said Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella, in 2017 when launching a recommendation to EU member states to end the export of old raw ivory as of 1 July 2017. The EU Commission also launched a parallel public consultation on ivory trade in 2017 that garnered a total of 89,833 submissions. The responses are being analyzed and a final decision on whether further restrictions on worked ivory are also necessary will be known in July 2018.

A legalized domestic market inside the EU, the largest exporter of legal ivory, still fuels demand and enables traders to launder illegal ivory. Ivory markets adapt and they could increase further in other Asian countries as the trade in mainland China and Hong Kong SAR closes. Therefore, the EU, the most important donor for biodiversity conservation, has now the chance to take on leadership and align with China’s decision to protect elephants from extinction by banning ivory trade. Elephant range states in Africa urged the EU to do so. IFAW urges the EU to take stronger measures banning ivory trade with only de minimis exemptions. Only this way, the EU could contribute to making the illegal ivory market finally disappear.

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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy