Surging European Union Pre-CITES Convention* Ivory Exports to Hong Kong A Cause for Concern
South Africa, 27 September 2016 – As delegates from all around the world deliberate on the future of wildlife, including elephants, at the CITES CoP17 wildlife trade conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, recently obtained data from the Hong Kong government show significant imports of ivory from the European Union to Hong Kong SAR of the People’s Republic of China with a total tonnage of over 7 tonnes. Moreover, the number of worked ivory pieces entering Hong Kong shot up by a dramatic 685%. In 2014, the total number of worked ivory pieces entering Hong Kong from the European Union was 1,572 pieces, but this leapt dramatically to 10,761 worked ivory pieces in 2015.
“The new data from Hong Kong show that the EU continues to be a significant exporter of ivory, the source of which is not always clear. As EU exports seem to be shifting from raw to worked ivory the EU needs to end all exports and close its own domestic market once and for all”, said Daniela Freyer from Pro Wildlife, Germany.
Recent record seizures of illegal ivory in France and Germany, destined for Asian markets, and an illegal ivory carving workshop found in Germany highlight the EU as a transit route for illegal ivory.
“The EU is also a supermarket for traffickers and seizures of ivory bought in Europe are regularly made in Asia.” added Charlotte Nithart from Robin des Bois, France.
Key points to note
France & Belgium
Pre-Convention ivory exports from France were down from 3,078 kilos in 2014 to just 170 kilos in 2015. However, before celebrating this news it must be recognized that Pre-Convention ivory exports from France’s neighbor, Belgium, during the same period, skyrocketed from 318 kilos to 1,439 kilos, and the number of carved pieces went from just one piece in 2014 to 218 pieces in 2015. An investigation by Robin des Bois showed that French ivory is being driven across the border for export from other member States, like Belgium, that do not have Pre-Convention raw ivory export bans.
Conservationists note with concern that despite the Italian Government’s pledge to combat wildlife trafficking, including its destruction of seized ivory in March 2016, the amount of Pre-Convention ivory exported to Hong Kong from Italy rose from just 13 kilos in 2014 to 211 kilos in 2015, and the number of worked ivory pieces rose from just 74 pieces in 2014 to a massive 7,639 pieces in 2015. It is possible that the practice of moving Pre-Convention ivory items around the EU to find countries that facilitate ivory exports is potentially widespread.
Andrea Crosta, Executive Director, Elephant Action League, Italy, said “Last year over 7,000 pieces of ivory have been legally exported to Hong Kong from Italy. This is how Italy fuels the demand and the international ivory trade. We ask the government of Italy to ban ivory and stop these shameful exports to Asia.”
Six EU countries (UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, and Sweden) announced in March 2015 that they had stopped issuing export permits for raw ivory. The Czech Republic and Slovakia have since implemented the same measure. In February 2016 the EU published an Action Plan aiming inter alia at banning exports of raw ivory. However, worked ivory is not included in the plan and no EU wide ban has been implemented at this point in time.
“Creating exemptions for Pre-Convention ivory offers an ongoing opportunity for ivory laundering and sustaining demand. This undoubtedly means more elephants will die a bloody, brutal and unnecessary death.” stated Will Travers, OBE, President of The Born Free Foundation, UK.
A recent investigation in the UK, by campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, demonstrated that 6 out of 9 ivory pieces he selected and bought online and in market stalls were illegal.
“The implications of these results are enormous”, said Fearnley-Whittingstall. “My investigation has proven that the law in Britain on ivory sales is being broken. This is important because we know significant amounts of ivory sold here is then being smuggled to Asia, where it helps fuel the very market which is killing Africa’s elephants”.
In 2014, the United Kingdom exported 1141 pieces of carved ivory to Hong Kong and 2524 in 2015.
At the ongoing CITES meeting, a coalition of 29 African countries and the US are proposing to close all domestic ivory markets. However, as yet the EU has not agreed to this important measure and is advocating to exempt Pre-Convention ivory. Robin des Bois, Pro Wildlife, WildAid and The Born Free Foundation are calling on the European Union to ban all Pre-Convention ivory exports without delay, in order to curb a destructive trade which has been documented as providing a laundering mechanism for an illegal trade in freshly-poached ivory from recently killed elephants in Africa.
Alex Hofford, Wildlife Campaigner, WildAid, Hong Kong, said “We commend the Hong Kong government’s pledge in January 2016 to phase-out its domestic ivory trade, including a halt to further Pre-Convention ivory imports into Hong Kong, and we urge its speedy implementation. The day Hong Kong bans Pre-Convention ivory imports will be a great day. It will set an example for the EU as a whole to follow and for each and every EU Member State to replicate by enacting their own domestic Pre-Convention ivory export bans.”
* Prior to 1975 for Asian elephant ivory and 1976 for African elephant ivory.