PM+: EU must take action to close ivory trade loopholes

Written by Sonja Van Tichelen on 17 March 2015 in Opinion Plus
Opinion Plus

EU policymakers need to chip in and do their part in tackling the illegal wildlife trade, argues Sonja Van Tichelen.

Elephants and rhinos continue to die at an alarming rate. One elephant every 15 minutes, on average, is killed for its ivory. We know there are fewer than 500,000 elephants remaining in the wild, so simple maths tells us we're running out of time.

We've had a resolution in the European parliament, we've had a European commission expert conference last April and there have been ivory crushes in Belgium, France, the UK and elsewhere.

"The trend is clear and the problem is getting worse. The only solution is an EU ban on the export of raw ivory"

We've also applauded as France, the UK, Sweden and Germany all banned the export of raw ivory from their countries. But these admirable initiatives are simply not enough.

As the Belgium's energy, environment and sustainable development minister Marie Christine Marghem, pointed out recently, there's not much point in a domestic export ban from one EU country if traders can simply move to another EU country and ship their ivory to China.

Marghem said this in response to an auction house in France that was advising its clients that the easiest way to circumvent the export ban in France was to ship it first to Brussels and then on to China.

There is a rich (about €2000/kg) irony in ivory being trafficked through Brussels because Brussels hasn't taken action.

Current rules allow for the export of ivory that entered the EU prior to 1947. The legal trade in ivory often hides an illegal trade that is disguised or misrepresented as antique ivory.

Closing the loophole would make it easier for customs officials to stop all ivory trade going through the EU and reduce the pressure on elephants still living in the wild.

In 2011 Belgium issued just eight certificates for raw ivory. The following year that increased to 18. 2013 saw a huge jump to 97 and 2014 was higher again with 128 permits issued.

"Many of the world's poorest countries have been doing their utmost to protect lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos and other iconic species. It is about time that the EU chipped in and did its own part"

The trend is clear and the problem is getting worse. The only solution is an EU ban on the export of raw ivory. A ban should be just one part of a broader EU action plan to tackle wildlife crime.

We need better intelligence sharing between member states, harsher penalties from the judiciary, more training and collaboration with rangers and police in range states to protect animals still in the wild, and comprehensive campaigns in the countries hoovering up the world's wildlife for trinkets no one needs and for medical potions without value.

With an action plan we need a trust fund to ensure that the best initiatives and intentions are transformed into action on the ground to save our planet's biodiversity.

Wildlife trafficking is a massive global security issue. It ranks as one of the world's most lucrative criminal activities, valued at nearly €18bn annually by the UN.

Illegal wildlife trade ranks fourth globally in terms of value, behind the trafficking in drugs, counterfeiting and human trafficking.

Many of the world's poorest countries have been doing their utmost to protect lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos and other iconic species. It is about time that the EU chipped in and did its own part.

 

About the author

Sonja Van Tichelen is the EU regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)

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