Hong Kong will phase out the local ivory trade by the end of 2021.
A three-step plan has been endorsed by the Chief Executive and the Executive Council leading to a complete ban on the endangered species parts, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
On Wednesday, Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said Hong Kong is committed to the protection of endangered species and concerned about the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said in September last year that Hong Kong had no plans to impose a full-scale ban on the ivory trade despite calls from World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), citing lack of an international agreement that forbids such trade.
All of the ivory registered in Hong Kong is imported through legal channels, it said.
But WWF said Hong Kong buyers can easily source orders directly smuggled from Africa.
A study shows as many as 100,000 elephants were illegally killed for ivory between 2010 and 2012.
In an apparent about-face, the government is preparing to amend the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance.
The proposal will be submitted to the Legislative Council in the first half of 2017.
The first step is to immediately ban the import and re-export of all elephant hunting trophies, followed by a ban on trading in ivory acquired before the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Finally, possession for commercial purposes of all ivory will be banned from Dec. 31, 2021 after a grace period of five years.
Steps two and three will not be applicable to antique ivory, according to a government announcement. All licenses issued, extended, renewed or varied on or after Dec. 31, 2016 will expire on or before Dec. 30, 2021.
At present, there are 370 licensed traders who can legally sell and use about 77 metric tons of ivory in Hong Kong.
Aggravated penalties for violators are being considered, with the maximum fine and sentence raised to HK$10 million (US$1.29 million) and 10 years in jail, respectively.
So Chi-keung, chairman of the Chamber of Hong Kong and Kowloon Ivory, said the government should compensate legal traders.
Ivory stocks could lose billions of dollars in value after the ban as it will lead to a stagnant market, he said.
AFCD Director Dr. Leung Siu-fai said the government sees no need to offer such compensation, adding a five-year grace period should be enough for traders to offload their ivory stockpile, Ming Pao Daily reports.
Michael Lau, director of wetlands conservation in WWF Hong Kong, said the government’s determination to eliminate ivory trade is welcome but it must also step up law enforcement to combat the illegal trade.
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