Ivory trade in Hong Kong and China

Hong Kong’s ivory traders should back the total ban, as they have enough time to adapt

Ted Hui says a total ban would be a reasonable move in line with global trends and concern for endangered species, and points out that the government’s action plan for legitimate traders is more than generous

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 11:43am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 April, 2017, 6:36pm

The Legislative Council’s environmental affairs panel has just finished discussing the government’s proposal to phase out the local ivory trade. The goal is clear – phase out the trade, and give traders five years to do so.

I met with ivory traders and environmental activists, listening to both sides of the ban argument. The traders are keen to inform the public that not every piece of ivory represents the poaching of elephants, and that their existing stock was acquired legally – it is permissible under law to trade ivory if the sellers are licensed and the ivory was worked before 1989, with valid documents as proof.

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I understand that “most” of the existing stock of ivory in Hong Kong is legal and that a sizeable portion came from elephants that died naturally. However, I fully support the proposed ivory ban. I think it is a reasonable move that is in line with the global trend.

The global consensus is that we have to conserve our endangered species, and, in order to do that, reducing global demand to halt the killing is simple economics.

The traders say they too despise illegal ivory traders but it is not fair for the whole trade to be punished for their wrongdoings. The environmental NGOs are saying traders should have envisioned that products from increasingly endangered species would eventually be banned amid rising global awareness of conservation, a risk factor they should have considered when deciding to stay in this business – which brings us to the next question: should we compensate the traders for their loss once the ban comes into effect?

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Compensating the traders would send out the message that the government did not do right by them. Is that so? The government did offer them help to change professions after the global ban on the ivory trade in 1990, and officials said they will explore other forms of assistance in light of the local ban.

The controversial nature of the trade ... and rising global awareness of animal conservation should have given traders enough indication that this industry was not sustainable

Moreover, the controversial nature of the trade, shrinking global and domestic markets, and rising global awareness of animal conservation should have given the traders enough indication that this industry was not sustainable. Therefore, I agree that the traders should not be compensated for their loss, and that this upcoming ban should serve as a warning to other trades in endangered species (plants included), and/or whose practices are against animal rights as well, including but not limited to fur and agilawood, given increasing global sentiment against this.

Nevertheless, the plight of the traders definitely needs to be taken into consideration, especially if no compensation is to be given.

They say part of the reason why the domestic ivory market has been in decline is the free entry of suspicious “pre-convention ivory” – that is, ivory acquired before the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) started to apply to elephants – mixed with other genuine pre-convention ivory.

The government proposes to ban the import and re-export of pre-convention ivory three months after the enactment of the bill, after which the traders have until 2021 to sell their existing stock without the constant flooding of foreign ivory.

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We should also publicise signs to look out for when buying ivory, like checking whether certificates displayed in shops may have been tampered with, to make sure only honest traders have businesses.

Traders are understandably unhappy with the ban. However, with a grace period of five years to sell their stock without foreign interference, the government’s promise to explore assistance measures for them, and since they too support the conservation of elephants (they said so themselves), surely the ban’s plan of action should suffice?

Legislative Councillor Ted Hui Chi-fung is the Democratic Party’s spokesperson for environmental policies