Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on July 16, 2008
Yesterday the Chinese government won a big victory over environmentalists, with the UN giving China permission to become one of two countries engaged in the legal trade of ivory. (Japan’s the other.) Activists working to protect Africa’s elephants are livid, saying the move will make it easier for smugglers to transport ivory illegally to Chinese consumers. For instance, according to Sky News, Robbie Marsland, the director in Britain for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says “Allowing new ivory to be imported into China will stimulate demand and create a smokescreen for illegal ivory to be laundered into the legal market.”
The British government, which voted with the majority to allow China’s entry into the ivory trade, has defended its move by pointing to progress by Beijing in controlling smuggling. Here’s British Wildlife Minister Joan Ruddock, as quoted in the Independent: “China has shown itself willing to crack down on illegal ivory trading and we expect them to continue to do so.”
Who knows, maybe she’s right. Maybe allowing China to import ivory from elephants killed legally, in efforts to control herd populations, will help fund conservation programs in Africa while also depressing prices on the black market by expanding supply. And maybe the Chinese government, which has been struggling for years to crack down on all sorts of counterfeiting and smuggling, will manage to succeed in the fight against the illegal ivory trade.
Maybe. But environmentalists probably have a point that giving the OK to Chinese ivory imports will for now just boost demand in China and make illegal ivory trading even more lucrative. And in an unfortunate coincidence, less than 24 hours after the vote in favor of China’s ivory traders, the world got a reminder that ivory smuggling into China remains a major problem, despite talk about a crackdown. This morning, police in Kenya arrested two women about to board a flight to China for allegedly trying to smuggle 36 pieces of ivory out of the country.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.