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EU accused of 'dragging its feet' over illegal #ivory trade

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Ivory-005The EU has been accused of “dragging its feet” on efforts in fighting the trade in illegal ivory with wildlife officials in nearly 30 African states saying they are “appalled” by its decision to oppose a comprehensive global ban.
All EU member states, the largest exporters of legal ivory, are now being urged to throw their weight behind growing demands for a total ban on the ivory trade.
The call comes ahead of a meeting in Brussels on Monday (18 July) of EU foreign affairs ministers to consider new ivory-trade controls.
Some member states, including the UK, France and Germany, have stopped issuing ivory export certificates and called on Brussels to make this an EU-wide policy.
But others,including Belgium, which had African colonies, have resisted such calls, saying there is no way to prevent poached ivory from entering legal chains.
In 2014, 20,000 African elephants were killed by poachers and between 2009 and 2015, Tanzania and Mozambique lost over half their elephant populations, with similar figures reported across east and central Africa.
The most recent figures show a 61% decline in African elephants between 1980 and 2013.The death rate is such that every 15 minutes, an elephant in Africa somewhere is killed by poachers.
The EU is the world’s largest exporter of pre-convention ivory—ivory acquired before the creation, in 1976, of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the body that regulates wildlife trade.
Between 2011 and 2014, member states reported seizures of around 4,500 ivory items reported as specimens and an additional 780 kg as reported by weight. Between 2003 and 2014, 92 percent of EU exports of pre-convention tusks went to China or Hong Kong.
The African Elephant Coalition (AEC) – a coalition of 29 African states – has presented its proposals, which include a global ban, to CITES and, at the end of last month, met senior EU officials in Brussels to build support for its campaign.
However, on 1 July, the EU announced that it opposes a comprehensive global ban on the ivory trade. It would be better to encourage countries with growing elephant numbers to “sustainably manage” their populations, it says.
An existing global embargo on ivory sales is due to end in 2017 and Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa and Botswana are pushing for it to be replaced with a decision-making mechanism for future tusk trading.
AEC is warning of a mass extinction on the continent within 25 years, unless elephants are given an ‘Annex I’ CITES listing, which would ban any future domestic ivory trade.
It says the EU "lags behind” the international community in fighting the illegal ivory trade: the US has introduced an almost total ban; China and Hong Kong SAR have announced they will close their markets but many EU member states trade in ivory and Europe is a global hub for ivory.
France supports a total ban and in addition to the UK, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany have stopped issuing ivory export certificates calling on Brussels to make this an EU-wide policy.
Many Europeans in countries such as Belgium, which opposes any ban, have been selling off ivory pieces they inherited in the years since nations won their independence.
During the past decade EU countries legally exported more than 20,000 carvings and 564 tusks, according to CITES.
Vera Weber, president and CEO of Fondation Franz Weber in Switzerland, told this website that the EU needs to support the AEC initiative and “demonstrate its commitment to the world” by shutting down its own ivory trade market.
Weber said: “As long as there is a trade in ivory, whether it is legal or not, elephants will continue to die and African countries and its people will continue to suffer from the ravages of poaching and the terrorist and criminal elements linked to it. If the world genuinely wants to help Africa, its wildlife and its people, I appeal to the EU to support the proposals of the 29 African countries in the AEC to need to put a stop to the ivory trade once and for all.”
She added: “The majority of Africa’s nations are calling for a total ban of the ivory trade. The USA and China have begun to implement similar measures but the EU lags behind. Their policies supporting domestic ivory markets and split-listing African elephants are outdated and only serves to aid and abet the poachers and criminal syndicates behind the most catastrophic and sustained slaughter of elephants the world has seen.”
Further comment came from John Duhig, Senior Counsellor at the European Foundation for Democracy, a Brussels-based policy institute, who said: “Ivory poaching contributes to funding terrorist groups in Africa, many of whom are separated from Europe only by the Mediterranean Sea.
"The UN Security Council itself acknowledged that wildlife trafficking in Central Africa is a source of funding to terrorist groups. It fuels conflicts and threatens regional and national security and are a threat also to our security in Europe.
“The EU recently confirmed that wildlife trafficking has become one of the world's most profitable organized crimes (€8-€20 billion in annual revenues), with the illicit ivory trade more than doubling since 2007 and three times greater than in 1998. The EU has a major opportunity now - in July 2016 - to help cut off this funding source as it agrees its common position for a major UN conference on the international ivory trade to be held in Johannesburg in September.”
His comments are echoed by Stella Reynolds, an international lawyer based in France, who said: “The EU was created to ensure future peace and an absence of conflict. So it’s incredible it is hiding from its responsibility in this modern-day global ivory conflict.”
Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife, a German-based advocacy group specializing in regional and international wildlife regulations, agrees, saying, “The EU must walk the talk and abolish ivory trade once and for all. EU ministers on Monday (18 July) must demonstrate leadership to secure the survival of elephants.”
Her call comes ahead of a CoP17 (17th Conference of the Parties) meeting in Johannesburg from 24 September to 5 October which will decide if elephants can be provided with the maximum level of protection and so help to end the illegal trade in ivory which is said to be among the largest source of revenue for terrorist groups in Africa.
The EU backs a system of exemptions which allows exports of some elephant products from the four African states.
A spokesperson for the Commission’s  Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries DG said: “In the EU the domestic trade in pre-convention ivory is strictly regulated. There is no evidence that this domestic market has been used as a cover for illegal ivory.”

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