China gets permission to import ivory from Africa
By Laura MacInnis
GENEVA (Reuters) - China won the right at a U.N. wildlife meeting on Tuesday to import elephant ivory from Africa under strict conditions, a U.N. spokesman said.
Four countries -- Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe -- are permitted under a deal reached at The Hague last year to make one-off sales of registered ivory stocks.
"China was accepted as a trading partner to import ivory from the four authorised countries in southern Africa," said Juan Carlos Vasquez of CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
To gain permission, Beijing had to prove it had the capacity to fight illegal domestic trade in ivory, which is used mainly in jewellery and carvings.
The CITES committee agreed that the four countries would be allowed to sell a combined total of 108 tonnes of the raw ivory, which comes from elephants that died from natural causes or were killed in population-management programmes.
"That is the total that the four can sell, and they can sell that ivory to Japan or to China," Vasquez said, noting CITES members briefly considered then set aside the idea of reviewing Zimbabwe's allocation given the recent political turmoil there.
Japan had been previously approved as an importer of ivory from those government stockpiles.
Populations of elephants, the world's largest land mammals, are under pressure in many parts of Africa from poaching, loss of habitats to farms and towns, pollution and climate change.
But Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa all say they have rising elephant populations, causing increasing conflicts with people in rural areas.
Under the CITES deal struck last year, the four are allowed to sell ivory from stockpiles that were registered on Jan. 31, 2007, and then are barred from seeking exports for nine years. The cash raised is used for conservation and local communities.
China has invested heavily in oil- and mineral-producing African countries in past years as its economic might has grown, and many Chinese companies are active on the continent.
Conservation groups WWF and TRAFFIC said China should pair its purchases with conservation awareness programmes to let Chinese nationals abroad know that it is illegal to buy and bring home ivory from Africa.
"The sight of ivory openly and illegally on sale in many African cities is likely to be a far more powerful encouragement to those contemplating poaching and smuggling, than a strictly controlled one-off sale," Susan Lieberman, director of WWF International's species programme, said in a statement.
"The only way to end elephant poaching is through an effective clampdown on illegal domestic ivory markets."