Hong Kong approves ban on local ivory trading by 2021

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Hong Kong approves ban on local ivory trading by 2021
Animal conservation activists hold placards and a picture of an elephant outside the Legislative Council, Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2018, to urge Hong Kong lawmakers to approve a ban on ivory sales. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong lawmakers gave final approval on Wednesday to a government proposal banning local ivory trading in the Chinese territory by 2021.

Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of amending the existing law to outlaw sales of ivory in Hong Kong, which researchers say is the world’s biggest retail ivory market.

The proposal also includes significantly stiffer penalties for smuggling of ivory and other highly endangered species to deter black market sales.

Under the new law, the maximum sentence will increase to a 10 million Hong Kong dollar (.3 million) fine, double the current amount, and 10 years in prison, up from the current two years.

Wildlife activists applauded the move, even as Hong Kong moves more slowly than Beijing. Mainland China, the biggest source of ivory demand, banned sales at the start of the year after shutting all carving factories and shops last March.

The existing Hong Kong law allowed domestic sales of ivory dating from before CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Under CITES, ivory trading started to be regulated in the mid-1970s before a total ban in 1990 on international sales.

Activists say there are signs that unscrupulous dealers were exploiting that loophole to “launder” newer, illicit ivory, making Hong Kong a major black market trading hub.

They hailed the ban as a major step in efforts to slow the poaching that results in the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants and threatens the lives of park rangers in Africa.

The Hong Kong government refused to offer any compensation to the city’s dozens of ivory shop owners and hundreds of licensed traders, who had demanded tens of millions of dollars in return for giving up their ivory stockpile, estimated at 670 metric tons (740 short tons).