Ivory trade in Hong Kong and China

Ivory traders need to give up the ghost

Complaints that five years is not enough time to clear their stocks are disingenuous, given that there is now little demand for such products

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 1:08am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 January, 2017, 1:08am

When it comes to how much time is needed to wind up a business, five years should be long enough, all the more so if the business is already on its last legs. So the five-year grace period proposed by the government before a total ban on the ivory trade is imposed is reasonable. The move, announced by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his 2016 policy address, is in line with global efforts to save the world’s elephants from extinction.

Under a three-step plan proposed by the Environment Bureau, an embargo on the import and re-export of ivory will be introduced first, followed by a ban on the trading of such products that were acquired before the enactment of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Finally, a ban on all sales of ivory products will come into effect by the end of 2021.

The industry has, unsurprisingly, criticised the plan as unfair and warned of legal action against what it sees as an infringement of property and trading rights. Traders have complained that there would not be enough time to clear existing stock, adding that compensation should be provided. If the clearance of stock within the grace period cannot be done, it is more due to the fading demand for such products. For decades, the international ban on trading ivory has raised conservation awareness and dampened demand for items that were once seen as a symbol of wealth and nobility in this part of the world.

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According to a government survey, transactions involving such products over the past five years have been limited anyway. Most traders long ago diversified their businesses. Compensating a sunset industry with taxpayers’ money therefore is unjustified. If anything, it reinforces calls for officials to shorten the grace period.

The pressure will be even higher after the trading and processing of ivory products is totally banned on the mainland by the end of this year. Local and mainland authorities should closely monitor whether the time gap in the two bans would allow room for abuse. Cross-border enforcement against ivory smuggling should also be stepped up.

Long overdue as it is, the total ban on the ivory trade by Hong Kong and the mainland is a pivotal step towards helping the city and the nation shed a shameful reputation for their role in driving elephants closer to the brink of extinction. To achieve this goal will require the concerted efforts of the authorities, the industry and people on both sides of the border.