US-China Dialogue generates new hope for elephants

Leading up to the 8th Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue this week, IFAW and one of our Key Opinion Leader partners hosted an event “Art for Animals” at Jintai Art Museum in Beijing.The Obama Administration finalized new rules plugging a series of loopholes, which will make it much harder for criminals to profit from illegal trade in elephant ivory in the United States.

The announcement comes just before the 8th Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue which started this week in Beijing. Shutting down commercial ivory trade will be a topic on the agenda.

As I spoke on a panel hosted by the Wilson Center for International Scholars on Friday, “Wild laws, China and its role in illicit wildlife trade,” the two largest economies in the world coming together would create immediate and impactful results for elephants. 

The legal domestic ivory markets have given wildlife criminals opportunities to launder illegal ivory from poached elephants for far too long.

One convicted wildlife trafficker named Chen smuggled more than seven tons of ivory from Africa in 2011 alone, all because he had a government-licensed ivory carving factory, through which he could launder illegal ivory from poached elephants.

Ivory trade anywhere kills elephants everywhere.

The existence of legal ivory markets in the US also provides cover for illegal trade from poached elephants. Such as in the case of Yiwei Zheng, a Chinese professor at a US university who pleaded guilty in smuggling ivory and rhino horn to China. 

In addition to providing cover for illegal ivory trade, the legal markets stimulate consumer demand as well. Many consumers take market availability of the product for legality of the trade.

To close the domestic ivory markets, President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping jointly pledged last September to enact “near complete bans on ivory imports and exports,” and promised to “take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.”

Since the pledge by the presidents, both countries have taken implementation steps.

US states New York, New Jersey, Washington, California and Hawaii have banned (to varying degrees) ivory trade within and across their borders.

China had also issued import bans of elephant hunting trophies and ivory carvings. However, time tables and concrete implementation plans for banning domestic commercial trade have been elusive.

This past Sunday, one day prior to the beginning of the official Strategic and Economic Dialogue, an event titled “Art for Animals” was co-hosted by the US government, National Geographic, IFAW and  one of IFAW’s Key Opinion Leader partners Mr. Yuan Xikun, at Jintai Art Museum.

“Art for Animals” was co-hosted by the US government, National Geographic, IFAW and Mr. Yuan Xikun, pictured above, at Jintai Art Museum.

The event featured around 100 VIP invitees including Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli, Assistant Secretaries, the US Deputy Ambassador to China, Chinese officials from the State Forestry Administration, UNEP Representative to China, Director of the National Geographic Photo Ark Project, NGO representatives, and prominent IFAW Key Opinion Leader partners.

After Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Catherine Novelli announced the new US rules last week, she was at the IFAW co-sponsored event in Beijing.

Ms. Novelli officially announced the US new rules on domestic ivory trade, positively recognized the leading roles that the two governments need to consistently play in fighting illegal international wildlife trade, and pledged that future efforts be focused on demand reduction for not only elephant ivory, but for tigers, rhinos and pangolins.

Now, one day into the bilateral annual dialogue, we learned that a timetable to halt domestic commercial ivory trade in China is forthcoming. 

I hope that China will soon join the US in setting an example for the world—our countries provide no safe harbor for wildlife criminals. 


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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