The European Union Environment Council will consider restricting trade in elephant ivory for export and in the EU domestic market at a meeting of ministers in Luxembourg next Monday, June 20.
The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, released on 26th of February by the European Commission, proposes to ‘further limit trade in ivory within and from the EU’ by suspending the export of raw ‘pre-Convention’ ivory – obtained before 1975 – and by guaranteeing that only legal ancient ivory items are traded in the EU. Exemptions that continue to allow trade in pre-Convention ivory have resulted in flourishing exports of raw and carved ivory from the EU to China and Hong Kong. This loophole is feared to fuel demand and facilitate the laundering of poached ivory into legal trade.
In March, China acted against this trade by extending a ban on ivory imports to include raw pre-Convention ivory, and on 07th of June announced it will release a timetable before the end of 2016 for closing its domestic ivory market. The United States, meanwhile, has implemented a near ban on ivory trade, to come into effect in July.
Conservation groups are urging the EU to follow the examples of China and the United States and crack down on the ivory trade by prohibiting all exports and closing the EU internal market.
‘The global shift against the ivory trade is evident, and the EU’s failure to put its own house in order will place it in an increasingly isolated position. Major ivory markets are closing down while the EU is lagging behind; they should join China and the US in leading this convergence of views’ said Sally Case, CEO of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.
‘The EU must walk the talk and abolish ivory trade once and for all, both within and from the EU. Signing declarations calling on the international community to get serious about combatting ivory trade is not enough. EU ministers must demonstrate leadership to secure the survival of elephants in Africa and Asia’ added Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife.
The EU is by far the biggest exporter of alleged pre-Convention ivory worldwide. A recent EU Commission report shows that legal exports of pre-Convention ivory from the EU have increased since 2008, the year that CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) permitted ivory stockpile sales to China and Japan from southern Africa. Moreover, global seizures of illegal ivory (as recorded by CITES’ Elephant Trade Information System) have boomed since 2008 with data indicating that the EU is a transit for poached ivory smuggled from Africa to Asia.
Earlier this week, the 2008 ivory stockpile sales were linked to a dramatic increase in elephant poaching, according to a new study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University, published in the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The African Elephant Coalition (AEC), comprising 27 countries with a shared commitment to ensuring the survival of the African elephant, submitted a package of five complementary proposals to CITES in late April to protect elephants. They include listing all elephants in CITES Appendix I, banning international ivory trade, and closing all domestic ivory markets. Taken together, the proposals would afford elephants the highest protection under international law.
The EU Ministers’ debate on ivory trade comes just five days before the seventh meeting of the African Elephant Coalition in Montreux, Switzerland, where the 27 African countries will consolidate their position in the run-up to the 17th Conference of the Parties of CITES (CoP17) in September-October in Johannesburg, which will consider their proposals.
The AEC includes the vast majority of African elephant range States (countries where African elephants occur in the wild). Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, however, representing a small minority of range States, have submitted proposals to CITES to re-open international trade in ivory.
‘African countries in the AEC are blazing a trail to shut down the global ivory market. We are calling on the EU to support their initiative and demonstrate its commitment to the world by shutting down its own market before CITES meets in September’ said Vera Weber, President of the Swiss-based Fondation Franz Weber, a partner organization of the AEC.