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Monday, June 27, 2016, 22:26

Amendment will outlaw HK’s ivory trade

By Sylvia Chang
Amendment will outlaw HK’s ivory trade
Ivory statues stored in Hong Kong. The SAR government has recently proposed a five-year plan to phase out the local ivory trade. (Roy Liu / China Daily )

HONG KONG — A report on amending the main provisions of Hong Kong’s legislation to completely outlaw the local ivory trade will be submitted to the Legislative Council (LegCo) in the first half of 2017, Under-Secretary for the Environment Christine Loh Kung-wai said on Monday.

The authority has recently proposed a five-year plan for controlling the local ivory trade. The plan involves a single legislative exercise in three steps before a full ban of the local trade in 2021.

Speaking to the LegCo’s Panel on Environmental Affairs, Loh said this initiative showed a “very clear direction” by the authority to phase out the trade.

Lawmakers praised the authority’s determination and prompt reaction to outlaw the local ivory trade. Meanwhile, they urged the government to consider shortening the “phase-out” period of five years.

Hong Kong allows the buying and selling of ivory in the local market. This is believed to have encouraged smuggling and was helping to fuel Africa’s elephant poaching crisis.

If the new legislation is passed, and after it is in effect for three months, the authority will ban the import and re-export of pre-convention ivory products (except antique ivory) which acquired before 1975. Those are ivory in circulation before 1975 – when a convention on regulating the global ivory trade came into effect. At present, the trade of these products is allowed if it meets the licensing requirements.

According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), the quantity of pre-convention ivory imported into Hong Kong has seen a rapid rise in recent years, from 21 kg in 2010, to 989 kg in 2013, and then to 4,152 kg in 2014.

Conservationists suspect that pre-convention ivory has made “laundering” possible by encouraging smugglers to mix up contraband ivory products with legal ones.

The authority described the five-year period before a complete ban in 2021 as a “grace period” for local traders to sell their products.

However, lawmakers questioned how to avoid laundering during the five-year period. They asked whether the authority will issue any certificates for antique ivory, which is part of the pre-convention ivory, to prove its value and avoid a mix-up with contraband products.

So Ping-man, deputy director of the AFCD, responded that no agreement had been reached yet. He said the authority had initially decided to encourage ivory owners to prove whether or not there is any confusion involved.

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