Activists and nations urge Japan to shut down ivory market

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LYON, France, March 6, 2022 (ENS) – African elephants top a packed agenda for the opening of Monday’s CITES Standing Committee meeting which covers the protection of more than 30 species of plants and animals. Delegates will discuss the trade in live elephants, the management of ivory stockpiles and the closure of domestic ivory markets.

Due to coronavirus restrictions, this is the first in-person meeting of the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, since 2019.

CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero stands in front of elephant sculptures as she addresses the audience gathered for the Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards, November 13, 2019, UN Conference Center, Bangkok, Thailand (Image capture screen of video courtesy CITES)

Ivonne Higuero of Panama, Secretary-General of CITES, said: “The Standing Committee’s impressive agenda is a clear signal of the confidence that Parties and stakeholders place in the ability and capacity of the Convention and its its entities to contribute to the resolution of global biodiversity crisis problems. We are very happy to be able to meet in person for the first time since CoP18 in Geneva in August 2019.”

Since a recommendation to close domestic markets for ivory contributing to poaching or illegal trade was adopted by CITES in 2016, most ivory-consuming countries have taken steps to close or nearly close their illegal markets. , including the United States, China, Hong Kong SAR of China, United Kingdom, European Union and Singapore. Japan still has an open ivory market.

CITES Decision 18.117, adopted in 2019, requires countries “that have not closed their domestic markets for raw and worked ivory to report to the Secretariat for consideration by the Standing Committee…the steps they are taking to s ensure that their domestic ivory markets do not contribute to poaching or illegal trade”.

Japan’s report in response to the ruling says it “has implemented strict measures to ensure that its domestic ivory market does not contribute to poaching or illegal trade.”

But a study published by the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund, JTEF, in March 2021, reveals that such strict measures have never been implemented. The study revealed that the scale of the ivory market in Japan is vast. With a stock of 244 tons, it comprises 89 percent of ivory stocks in Asia and 31 percent of ivory stocks worldwide.

“For years, we have documented the Japanese government’s inability to control its loophole-ridden ivory trade and prevent illegal trade and export,” said JTEF Executive Director Masayuki Sakamoto. “Nothing has changed.”

Many ivory smugglers purchase products from Japan, where domestic trade is legal, and smuggle them into China, where demand is high.

“There is clear evidence that the legal ivory market in Japan has facilitated illegal export. Japan must not continue to violate the unanimous decision on closing domestic ivory markets contributing to poaching or illegal trade by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora,” said said Sakamoto.

Members of the African Elephant Coalition, 32 African nations dedicated to protecting African elephants, have lobbied Japan to shut down its ivory market for years.

Representatives of the governments of Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone, in letters to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike in March 2021, wrote: “From our point of view, to protect our elephants from the trade in ivory, it is vitally important that the Tokyo ivory market be closed, leaving only limited exceptions.

And now, with the global shutdown of national ivory markets in sight, CITES is backtracking.

In Standing Committee Document 39, the Secretariat recommends that the Standing Committee “invite the Conference of the Parties (which will meet in November) to agree that Decisions 18.117 to 18.119 have been fully implemented and can be deleted”.

The African nation, Senegal, disputes Japan’s report and notes its disagreement with the Secretariat’s recommendation.

Activists from the Franz Weber Foundation, the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, the Environmental Investigation Agency and the Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund will be in Lyon to urge CITES parties to oppose this recommendation to allow prosecution reports, and will again demand that Japan shut down its ivory market.

“African elephants are once again in crisis due to the explosive demand for ivory. African elephants are undeniably in the midst of another poaching crisis. Tens of thousands of elephants are slaughtered every year in a slaughter fueled by global demand for ivory,” says the Environmental Investigation Agency, an international NGO with offices in London and Washington DC.

Matters of CITES Importance alongside Elephants

The Standing Committee will address pressing issues, including:

  • assisting Parties to effectively comply with the CITES Convention through its tools to avoid overexploitation of wild species,
  • how to track and manage specimens produced through biotechnology,
  • more concerted action against illegal trade in endangered species,
  • work done to reduce global demand for illegally traded animal and plant products
  • how to better implement the Convention

The Standing Committee will also consider the contribution that CITES could or should make to help reduce the risk of future zoonotic diseases that may be associated with international wildlife trade. Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to humans.

The Standing Committee will explore ways to better engage with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. “CITES Parties have recognized that the implementation of CITES decisions is best achieved with the engagement of indigenous peoples and local communities, particularly those who have traditionally depended on CITES-listed species for their livelihoods,” said the CITES Secretariat.

Fitzroya cupressoides, a CITES Appendix I larch species, prohibited from international trade due to its endangered status. August 24, 2011 (Photo courtesy National Botanico Garden, Vina del MarChile)

A new study on the illegal trade in jaguars will be presented and issues related to tree species, elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, eels, totoaba, sea turtles, seahorses and pangolins will be discussed.

The recent meeting of the Working Group on Illegal Trade in CITES Listed Trees will report to the Steering Committee. More than 30 percent of the world’s tree species are threatened with extinction, and international trade in more than 500 tree species is regulated by CITES.

“Progress can and must be made in the implementation and enforcement of CITES provisions. We risk losing more and more tree species diversity, with the resulting threat to biodiversity and the ecosystems that sustain people, and the consequences for climate change,” said the Secretariat of the CITES.

The Standing Committee provides policy guidance and recommendations to CITES and holds its meeting five days before the meeting of the Conference of the Parties in November (CoP19), where the 184 Parties to the Convention will meet in Panama.

CITES is a legally binding international instrument that must be implemented and enforced by the 184 Parties (183 countries and the European Union) that have agreed to be bound by it. The Steering Committee will consider any measures it may take to assist Parties in fulfilling their obligations under the Convention. This could include trade suspensions for those who may not yet have adequate legislation in place or scientific assessments required to allow trade in listed species or who may be in breach of key provisions of the Convention that ensure the trade in CITES-listed species. is always sustainable, legal and traceable.

The chair of the standing committee is Carolina Caceres from Canada, whose day job is as director of the international biodiversity department at the federal government agency Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Caceres highlighted the importance of the Steering Committee meeting saying, “I appreciate the efforts of everyone involved to bring this meeting to Lyon, and I look forward to working with Parties and observers to address the many important issues on the Committee’s agenda. This will be a crucial step towards CoP19 in Panama in November this year. »

The featured image: Male savannah elephants drinking in Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga, South Africa, February 22, 2022 (Photo by

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