Hong Kong should ban the trade in ivory sooner than 2021
The government has already decided on a total ban of the shameful business, so there is no credible reason why we should wait five years
The incineration of more than a tonne of confiscated illegal ivory was a spectacular media event that boosted Hong Kong’s conservation credentials. In the ensuing two years it has faded from memory as the slaughter of the African elephant population continues and the ivory trade goes on – legally and illegally. The staged occasion needed political will to make it convincing.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying finally expressed it in his policy address last January, promising to kick-start procedures to prohibit the import and export of elephant-hunting trophies and to explore enacting laws to completely ban the ivory trade.
Now environment officials have fleshed out the pledge by unveiling three concrete steps to be tabled in the Legislative Council early next year, culminating in a total ban in five years – by the end of 2021. The first step would be a ban on imports and re-exports of hunting trophies and ivory carvings, and the second a ban on imports and re-exports of “antique ivory”.
The ivory business has had a good run, considering how unsavoury the harvesting of tusks by professional hunters is and that a global ban on the international trade in ivory, which covers Hong Kong, has long been in force.
Permits were given for tusks to be traded domestically by licensed dealers. As a result, about 370 licence-holders still have more than 70 tonnes of legal ivory. The proposed time line gives ivory licence-holders five years to liquidate their legal stocks.
The government says it has to give traders reasonable time to transform their businesses and for licences to expire. But a government survey shows that elephant tusks are not a substantial part of most traders’ business. This raises the question of why the process can’t be accelerated without doing harm. Ivory may remain prized in China and other parts of Asia as a sign of wisdom, nobility and wealth. But the proposed law changes should be expedited if the city is to shed its reputation as a hub for routing and sourcing a shameful trade any time soon.