China bans ivory imports – what will happen next month?


by Kevin Heath, Wildlife News

Date Published
There was no big announcement and the source was a small article in the state run Legal Evening News but China has just made a major policy decision for elephants. The country has  – from immediate effect – banned the import of ivory and elephant tusks for 12 months.
Is this just a short term measure or can we read into it some indication as to the stance of the central Chinese government next month when they meet to decide on whether to ban the domestic ivory trade.
The announcement of the ban was made by the State Forestry Administration. The ban will mean that the government will immediately stop the granting of permission for import permits of ivory products. It will not effect the domestic trade or production of new ivory from China’s central ivory stockpile.
The authorities will also be monitoring poaching in Africa to see if the ban has an impact on elephants being killed. Following a review a more permanent policy will be put in place.
The ban will only affect mainland China and so will not incorporate Hong Kong which is the main destination of illicit ivory. As much of the trading takes place in Hong Kong it is unlikely that a mainland ban will have much impact on the elephant poaching in Africa. Until Hong Kong takes action the impact will me minimal. However that should not detract the significance of China’s move.
The ban follows on from last month when China held an international workshop on combatting the illegal ivory trade. At that meeting senior officials said that because of the falling demand for ivory on the mainland – only 80% of the annual 5 tons of ivory available being used – the country would be cutting the number of licenses it issues to legal ivory carvers and traders.
But of more interest is how does this decision relate to next months meeting of the Central Committee where they will be looking at the domestic trade in ivory. Some campaigners in the country are quietly optimistic that China could total ban the ivory trade on the mainland. It would certainly fit in the trend for China clamping down on excesses.
Quietly tucked away in today’s South China Morning Post was a small article about the meeting.  The National Party Congress will discuss and vote on the issue after intensive lobbying by Hong Kong representative Elizabeth Quat. She seems quiet upbeat about being successful in the vote having been quoted as saying, “I do not think there will be a lot of objection on the mainland,” said Quat, of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
For mainland China to outlaw the ivory trade will be a big boost to protecting elephants – but without Hong Kong being part of the action sadly the impact will be greatly diminished.