Thailand warned it faces international sanctions over illegal ivory trade
Thailand faces an international wildlife trade ban unless it reins in its ivory sector, which is a magnet for traffickers, said the governing body of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species.
"There have been years without any real action on the ground when it comes to controlling the illegal ivory market," said its chairman, Oeystein Stoerkersen.
CITES has set Thailand an August 2015 deadline to fall into line or risk wide-ranging sanctions.
Bangkok is under additional pressure to report back by January on steps to bolster laws on registering ivory importers, traders and legal stockpiles, which CITES claims are insufficient.
"Without that, Thailand will face a ban, and a suspension of all trade no matter what commodity it is, of the 35,000 species listed with CITES," Stoerkersen said.
A ban would prevent the country trading anything on that list with another country, including orchids and exotic wood, which are significant export products for Thailand.
"I think that is a strong signal," said Stoerkersen, adding that Thai diplomats at the talks had acknowledged that their country needed to do more.
But environmental campaigner WWF said the body should have hit Thailand harder, given that Bangkok pledged last year to smash the illegal trade but the quantities of ivory on sale rose sharply. "A suspension of trade in all CITES goods from Thailand would have been justified," said WWF analyst Colman O'Criodain.
Current Thai law allows ivory from domesticated Thai elephants to be sold, making it simple to launder poached African ivory, WWF said.
"Thailand's market is fuelling the illegal assault on African elephants," O'Criodain said.
The decision on Thailand came as delegates wrapped up a week-long CITES conference on trade in endangered species.
Stoerkersen said Thailand had become a "sink" for African ivory, sucking in imports bought by foreigners for export to other Asian countries.
"It's more or less an unregulated market," he said.
Along with China, Thailand is part of the "Gang of Eight" countries that have faced scrutiny over the ivory trade, but it is now seen as the key offender.
During the conference, CITES also banned trade in the emperor scorpion from Ghana, and raised concerns about the illegal trade in cheetahs and snakes.