EU momentum building: Belgium to ban ivory trade
Brussels (26 March 2019) – Last week Belgium’s House of Representatives unanimously supported proposals to ban commercial trade in ivory (with strictly defined exemptions). The Federal Parliament will vote at its plenary session in April, and is expected to adopt the proposals. This move brings Belgium into line with the UK, Luxembourg, France and the Netherlands, all of which have introduced ivory trade bans or restrictions recently.
The Belgian Environment Minister, Marie Christine Marghem, publicly called for a total ban on the EU ivory trade, stating: “Europe is in spite of itself a hub of the illegal trade of endangered wildlife and it must stop!”
“This follows the Belgian Senate passing a resolution calling on the EU Commission to urgently implement a general trade ban in ivory throughout the EU. We commend Belgian representatives for their leadership and appreciate the broad political support for a domestic ivory trade ban”, says Arnaud Goessens of WCS EU.
The news from Belgium comes as Member State experts are due to meet on 27 March to discuss the future of the ivory market, and adds momentum to efforts to ban the trade across the European Union.
“The EU Commission and Member States have been lagging behind far too long. They finally need to act and do their part in banning ivory trade once and for all if we are to save elephants”, says Daniela Freyer of Pro Wildlife.
Elephants are facing their worst crisis in decades due to poaching for their ivory. Populations are thought to be falling by about 8 percent annually and at least 20,000 African elephants continue to be killed each year. A large number of NGOs, the 32 African country members of the African Elephant Coalition, 165 scientists, the European Parliament and members of the public have long been calling on the EU to issue a comprehensive ban.
“The EU is an important transit hub, consumer market and major exporter of ivory. Legalised ivory trade within and out of the EU legitimises ivory as a desirable product to trade and provides a cover for laundering illegal ivory. Legal markets whether in the EU or Asia fuel demand for poached ivory in Asia and undermines global efforts to close ivory markets globally”, says Mary Rice, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency-UK.
Although the international trade in ivory was prohibited in 1989, the EU still permits trade in ivory imported before 1990. The results of a public consultation released by the EU Commission at the end of 2018 show that more than 90% of the 90,000 respondents support an EU ivory trade ban. Despite promising to take action on its ivory market since 2016, so far the EU has only called on Member States to end exports of raw ivory. It continues to permit trade between EU Member States, as well as exports of some worked ivory, including to Asia where the illegal ivory trade is booming. For “antique” ivory acquired before 1947, the EU does not even require permits or evidence of legal acquisition. These loopholes are used to launder ivory from illegally poached elephants into the legal trade.
The global ivory trade involves transnational, organised crime networks, risks the lives of rangers who can be injured or killed while protecting wildlife, and damages communities and the economies of developing countries.
“The EU needs to establish a ban which is meaningful and effective by only allowing minimum and tightly worded exemptions for accredited museums, musical instruments and antique items containing very minor amounts of ivory”, says Ilaria Di Silvestre of Eurogroup for Animals.
A major international meeting of world governments will take place in Sri Lanka in May 2019 where the issue of closure of domestic ivory markets will be discussed. “The EU is rightfully perceived as a global leader on biodiversity conservation and has a critical role to play in ending the ivory trade once and for all. Inaction to end this pernicious trade will come under the international spotlight at the upcoming CITES conference in Sri Lanka, where the EU risks being seen as behind the curve. We urge all EU member states to join with China, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore and the US and take urgent action to close your domestic ivory markets”, says Vera Weber of the Franz Weber Foundation.
Europe is in spite of itself a hub of the illegal trade of endangered wildlife and it must stop!Marie Christine Marghem, Belgian Environment Minister