Eighteen international environmental and conservation organisations are calling on European Union governments to halt all exports of raw ivory when the EU’s Committee on Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora meets on 10th April in Brussels.
Ivory trade has expanded in the EU, making it the world’s largest exporter of so-called pre-Convention or “old” ivory. An analysis in 2014 of records in the database maintained by CITES - the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora - confirms that re-exports of pre-Convention ivory, particularly raw tusks, from the EU have increased substantially since 2007, with mainland China and Hong Kong the main destinations of this old ivory. The increase coincides with a decision in 2007 by CITES to allow China to purchase 62 tonnes of ivory, stimulating market demand. Conservationists demand that loopholes in European law allowing exports of old ivory are closed permanently by Ministerial agreement. Then they cannot be exploited to launder fresh ivory poached in Africa to feed the insatiable demand in Asia, especially China.
"We have repeatedly warned that weak European laws on ivory trading are a clear and present danger to Africa’s elephants. Action in Brussels is long overdue", says Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife.
Earlier this month, 44 NGOs wrote to European Union Ministers asking them to suspend all exports of raw ivory. Charlotte Nithart of Robin des Bois, who co-ordinated the NGO letter said “We are pleased that six EU Countries - Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom - are already refusing to issue ivory export permits and have urged the other 22 member states to follow suit.” Sally Case of the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation added “The EU must agree unanimously on 10th April to halt ivory exports and end its unenviable position at the top of the league table for exports of pre-Convention or old ivory”.
A common EU position to halt exports is imperative. Without one, ivory can be taken from one EU country where export is not allowed to another EU country where export permits are still issued. Belgium is of particular concern since it allows exports of ivory to Asia. This undermines the recent decisions by Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK not to issue export permits. "To protect these magnificent animals there must be a complete prohibition of the trade in ivory since it is indisputable that any legal trade facilitates illegal trade”, said DJ Schubert of the Animal Welfare Institute. “Attempts to legalize ivory trade since 1989 have been a disaster. We need to learn from history and permanently shut down all ivory trade – international and domestic”, added Vera Weber of the Fondation Franz Weber.
"We are calling on all EU countries that have not yet done so to adopt a common position on 10th April by halting all commercial exports of raw ivory,” says Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency. “The recent measures announced by China to restrict imports of worked ivory fail to address this key issue. In addition, the EU needs to adopt a ban on the export, import and domestic sale of both raw and worked ivory, clamp down on Internet trade, and follow the examples of other countries by destroying stocks. We will only be able to end the elephant poaching crisis when the trade fuelling it is banned permanently and demand curbed,” adds Rice.