Conservation groups said that while the announcement was a welcome first step, it would do little to curb the trade in ivory within China.
“The (SFA’s) ‘temporary ban’ does not apply to the massive domestic legal ivory market in China which continues to perpetuate the desirability of and illegal trade in ivory, stimulates demand and provides an avenue for laundering illegal ivory,” said Mary Rice of the Environmental Investigation Agency. She adds: “In effect, the announcement is largely a window-dressing exercise,” she added.
The EIA says the ban won’t impact around 180 licensed ivory-processing and retail facilities in China, which combined with a thriving illegal trade, makes the country a major player in a global trade responsible for the death of around 35,000 African elephants a year, threatening their extinction.
China is the world’s largest consumer of ivory, prompting a sharp rise in the prices of raw tusks and finished ivory, although other countries such as the US are also big markets.
Trade in ivory is already forbidden by international treaties. "The ivory trade is generally forbidden since the 1989 CITES treaty. The trade is already illegal,” said Magnus Fiskesjo, a visiting professor of anthropology who lectures on the ivory trade at New York University’s Chinese campus in Shanghai.
In 1989 the convention agreed an international ban on commercial trade in ivory, and for a time was successful in curbing demand for ivory until the mid-2000’s when an upsurge in Chinese demand for tusks encouraged a resurgence in poaching. And CITES doesn’t apply to the booming domestic trade in ivory.
Last month, UK broadcaster David Attenborough – whose nature documentaries are world-famous - was one of several signatories of an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling for a complete ban on ivory trade in China.
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