By the end of this year China will set a timetable to phase out commercial trading in ivory, a Chinese official said during a meeting with a U.S. delegation on Monday.
The comments were made by Yan Xun, deputy general director of the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Nature Reserve Management of the State Forestry Administration, during the eighth session of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue held in Beijing.
China’s promise follows the announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on June 2 that it will implement a “near-total” ban on ivory trade.
Cristian Samper, president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement that a ban in both China and the U.S. will send a message to the world that ivory markets are shutting down. “Elephants now have a fighting chance,” said in written statement to Sixth Tone.
The population of African elephants, poached for their tusks, has dropped to around 500,000 from more than 1 million in the 1970s.
China signed the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty, which banned international trade in ivory, in 1981. In 2004, China implemented a registration and certification system for domestic ivory trade.
Nevertheless, a 2011 report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare said China had surpassed Japan to become the biggest illegal market for ivory in the world.
It is at this moment not clear when or to what extent the Chinese government plans to further prohibit trade in ivory.
Across China there are currently 34 ivory carving and processing factories and 130 traders who are licensed to operate such businesses, down from 37 and 145, respectively, in 2013.
Chinese companies still hold a large stockpile of legal ivory that originates from a shipment of 62 tons of ivory legally imported in 2008 when the country received an exemption from CITES. Researchers estimate about half of the shipment remains unprocessed.
Some Chinese researchers have called on the Chinese government to buy back all legally held ivory stock in order to implement the ban quickly and efficiently. Zhang Li, a professor in ecology at Beijing Normal University, estimates such an acquisition could cost about $84 million.
The international ivory market has been shrinking for some years. Last December, Kenya-based organization Save the Elephants said their survey showed that the price of ivory on the illegal market fell from $2,100 to $1,100 per kilogram in a time span of 18 months. They said this fall in price was due to increasing public awareness, as well as efforts by the Chinese authorities.
A report by art trading platform Artron in May concluded that the antique ivory carving trade on the Chinese auction market had dropped dramatically since 2012.
During a visit to the U.S. last September, Chinese president Xi Jinping and U.S. president Barack Obama both pledged to “take significant and timely steps” to end the ivory trade.
Thereafter the Chinese Forestry Administration imposed a ban on African ivory hunting trophy imports until the end of 2019.
(Header image: A policeman stands in front of ivory items shown to the media before being destroyed in Beijing, May 29, 2015. VCG)