30th December 2016
China promises to ban ivory trade by end of 2017
Conservationists are celebrating a major win today, following China's announcement to end its domestic ivory trade in 2017. China is currently responsible for about 70% of the global ivory market.
Credit: Gavin Shire / USFWS
In the most important step yet to ending the global ivory trade, the Chinese government today announced a one year timeline for its promised ivory ban. According to the notice, China will begin phasing out registered legal ivory processors and traders by 31st March 2017 and shut down its commercial ivory trade completely by 31st December 2017.
"China has shown great leadership in the fight to save African elephants," said Elly Pepper, deputy director of wildlife trade for the Natural Resources Defence Council. "Setting such an aggressive timeline to close – once and for all – the largest domestic ivory market in the world is globally significant. It's a game changer and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction. Now, other countries, including the UK, must follow China's lead and close their ivory markets."
Demand for elephant ivory has skyrocketed in recent years, leading to the poaching of over 35,000 elephants per year for their tusks. African savanna elephants have declined by 30 percent in the past seven years and if current poaching rates continue, African forest elephants could be extinct in less than a decade.
The international commercial trade in ivory has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 1989. However, domestic markets have continued in various countries, creating a cover through which illegal ivory can be laundered. China has maintained a legal ivory market – by far the biggest in the world – with an estimated 70% of global trade ending up there. Demand is so high that ivory can reach $1,100 per kilogram.
Over the past two years, the Chinese government has taken major steps to end its domestic ivory market. In February 2015, China placed a one-year ban on imports of all carved ivory items. A month later, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to end China's domestic ivory market – a commitment he reinforced in September 2015 when meeting with President Obama. In October 2015, China placed a one-year ban on imports of African elephant trophies. In March 2016, China extended its one year ban on imports of carved ivory items and elephant hunting trophies to 31st December 2019. Finally, at the June 2016 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED), China promised to deliver its timeline for a total ivory ban by the end of 2016, spurring today's announcement.
After the market closes, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help transition ivory carvers and related employees to other livelihoods. The government will also strengthen the management of legally-possessed ivory products and ramp up enforcement and education to combat the illegal ivory trade.
"China's announcement is a game changer for elephant conservation," said Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund. "The large-scale trade of ivory now faces its twilight years, and the future is brighter for wild elephants. With the US also ending its domestic ivory trade earlier this year, two of the largest ivory markets have taken action that will reverberate around the world."
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