Brutal trade attacked

THE spectacular 200-fold rise in the fine for trading in endangered species is a welcome indication of the seriousness with which the Government views the brutal trade - and Hong Kong's international obligations.

As a key market for the animal parts used in Chinese medicine and an important conduit for smuggled goods headed for Taiwan and other Asian communities, the territory has a particular responsibility for effective policing. Stern action is vital to ensure Hong Kong's hands are clean and not just washed of responsibility for a crime no one bothers to prevent.

However, placing a $5 million fine and two-year jail term on the statute books is only a start. The real battles are elsewhere.

The first is to ensure the smugglers are caught and brought to justice. The second - and if the courts' current record is anything to go by, the more important - is to ensure the heavy fines available are imposed. It is no good letting a first offender off with a token fine when the business is highly lucrative to the smuggler (and devastating to the wildlife populations).

There is also some doubt as to whether even this amount of money is enough. If a trader with one suitcase full of rhinoceros horns can make more money than the maximum fine, he will be tempted to take a bigger suitcase, not to stop trading horns.

Perhaps the complete confiscation of profits, as with convicted drug traders, would be a further sanction to be considered, although such measures are notoriously hard to administer.