Is it time for the UK to impose a total ban on ivory sales?

Posted On: 
14th August 2017

The long awaited consultation on the trade of ivory in the UK is yet to receive an official launch date, says Dods Monitoring's Mitchell Adams.

In 2016, a ban was introduced on the sale of modern day ivory, which left the door open for the continued sale of antique ivory goods.
PA Images

In October 2018 the UK will host the Illegal Wildlife Trade conference. Yet this statement to combat the trade is somewhat tampered given that 3,200 ivory items were sold in London shops alone in 2016, and a report published last week by the Environmental Investigation Agency showed that the UK “exported more legal ivory than any other country between 2010 and 2015”. Whilst also exporting the largest supply of legal ivory to China and Hong Kong, two of the largest markets for both legal and illegal ivory trade in the world. Is there still more that can be done by the UK Government to combat the legal and illegal trade in ivory goods?

In September 2016 a ban was placed on the sales of “modern day ivory sales” in the UK. The ban ensured that any items which contained ivory “dated between 1947 and the present day” would be banned from markets. However this left the door open for the continued sale of antique items, which dated back prior to the 1947 cut-off. 

Many have blamed the continued sale of ivory antiques as a stimulus for the illegal trade markets and the UK as a whole has been seen as a hub for ivory re-exports, with 31% of the EU’s total ivory items for commercial purpose coming from the UK, according to data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). More so, between 2009 and 2014 the UK Border Force seized at least 1,165 ivory products, showing that the illegal smuggling of ivory is still a highly active market within the UK.

Despite a long anticipated consultation on the trade of ivory in the UK being yet to receive an official launch date by the Government, they have on multiple occasions reaffirmed their commitment to tackling the “trade in illegal ivory”. This commitment however is one of many mixed signals that the Government is currently sending on the issue of ivory trade in the UK. Despite both the Conservative manifestos in 2010 and 2015 having pledges to push for a complete ban on ivory trading, the Conservative party under Theresa May in the 2017 general election decided to drop this pledge from their newly formed manifesto. The proposed consultation on the matter may prove fruitful and is supported by recent comments made by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who stated the Government has a commitment to an “all-out ban on the ivory trade” in the UK. But this process will seemingly take a long time, which is something that cannot be bought back for the victims of poaching for ivory.

Furthermore, following international benchmarks being set in the ongoing battle against the trade of ivory across the world, such as China’s announcement that it will cease ivory trade by 31 December 2017 and the US announcing a “near total” ban on elephant ivory sales, is it time for the UK to take a step forward and impose its own total ban on ivory sales? 

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