Many local ivory shop owners and ivory craftsmen have relayed to me that over the past few decades, the trade has been in possession of and selling ivory while holding valid Licences to Possess issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and there is now still a stock of dozens of tonnes of local ivory covered by Licences to Possess. In June last year, the Government indicated its intention to implement a plan to phase out the local ivory trade and halt the renewal of Licences to Possess by the end of 2021. By then, it would be an offence to possess ivory for commercial purposes.
Moreover, ivory and ivory products are not permitted under the legislation to be exported or sold to overseas places. As a result, it is difficult for the trade to sell the existing ivory off. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the current ivory stock covered by Licences to Possess;
(2) whether it knows the local sales volume of ivory or ivory products in the past five years;
(3) whether measures are in place to assist the trade in handling unsold ivory stock after the expiry of the aforesaid deadline; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(4) whether it will consider adopting the trade’s suggestion of the Government purchasing the ivory stock covered by Licences to Possess from the traders and donate it to the local museums for conservation education and exhibition purposes; if not, of the reasons for that?
The Government is committed to the protection of endangered species, including Africa elephants which are facing the threat of extinction.
To co-ordinate with international efforts and demonstrate Hong Kong’s commitment in combating the illegal ivory trade and eradicating illegal poaching of wild elephants, the Government announced at the end of 2016 a three-step plan (the Plan) to phase out the local trade in ivory by the end of 2021. In this regard, the Government has started the legislative procedure to amend the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586) (the Ordinance) in order to take forward the Plan and impose heavier penalties to enhance deterrent against smuggling activities of endangered species (including ivory).
Our replies to the questions raised by Hon Regina Ip are as follow:
(1) The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) started to regulate the international trade in Asian elephant and African elephant in 1975 and 1976 respectively. Since 1990, the international trade of all elephant species has been virtually banned.
In Hong Kong, the “post-Convention ivory” acquired before the international trade ban in 1990 was required to register with the then Agriculture and Fisheries Department. According to the Ordinance, possession of “post-Convention ivory” for commercial purposes requires a Licence to Possess. As at end of 2016, there were about 75 tonnes of “post-Convention ivory” under Licences to Possess for commercial purposes.
Besides, the ivory traders may be possessing “pre-Convention ivory” that was acquired before the CITES provisions started to apply to elephants for commercial purposes, or any ivory for non-commercial purposes.
No Licence to Possess is required for the above circumstances. Therefore, we do not have record on the exact quantity of such ivory.
(2) The Census and Statistics Department does not have statistics on the local trade in ivory or ivory products. Separately, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) conducted an ivory trade survey from February to April 2016.
The results of the survey revealed that the local ivory trade is inactive. About 90 per cent of the surveyed stocks of “post-Convention ivory” had no transaction in the previous five years.
(3) The Government has started to regulate the trade in ivory since 1970s. According to the results of the AFCD survey mentioned above, the local ivory trade is inactive.
The sale of ivory in general does not constitute a substantial part of the traders’ business. Many ivory traders had already undergone business transformation or switched to trade other commodities not under CITES control such as mammoth ivory. The AFCD has briefed the ivory trade the latest international and local developments on ivory control since June 2015.
Since March 2016, the AFCD has briefed the ivory trade the ivory phase-out plan and consulted them from time to time. The proposed effective date of the total ban of local ivory trade is December 31, 2021. There are five years from the announcement of the concerned policy for the traders to dispose of the ivory in their possession and undergo business transformation.
Although the ivory owner cannot sell ivory after the ban takes effect, they can still legally keep the ivory for non-commercial purposes such as personal collection, inheritance, exhibition, gifts etc. Separately, we propose to provide re-employment training to affected ivory craftsmen who are specialised in ivory crafting. Meanwhile, the AFCD has been carrying out a survey with the ivory craftsmen to ascertain their assistance and training needs.
(4) By amending the Ordinance to implement the three-step plan to phase out the local trade in ivory, the Government aims to send a strong signal to the international community (including the people who are involved in poaching of elephants) that Hong Kong is determined to close its local ivory market in order to eradicate such poaching activities.
The Government will not consider any way of buying-out the ivory so as to avoid sending the wrong message which further stimulates the illegal poaching activities of wild elephants.