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“Japan has loopholes” in ivory trading

  • December 4, 2017
  • , Tokyo Shimbun , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

Japan drew criticism over its ivory trade during a standing meeting of the Washington Convention, which regulates international trade in endangered species, that had been held in the Swiss city of Geneva until Dec. 1. Tokyo this year revised the Law for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (LCES) and strengthened regulations on ivory business operators in response to the adoption of a resolution calling for countries to close domestic ivory markets at a meeting of signatories to the convention last year. But the Japanese government is trying to maintain “a properly controlled market” as ivory is used in, for example, seals and traditional Japanese musical instruments, leading some in the country to point out that the stance “could cause Japan to fall behind the global trend.”


Submission of a bill


Countries like the midwestern African nation of Niger, which is increasingly alarmed by a never-ending poaching of African elephants for ivory, submitted a proposal criticizing Japan to the latest meeting of the convention, saying, “A trade monitoring group reported that ‘there are many loopholes in the Japanese market.’” The proposal was made due partly to a series of cases of illegal ivory trading which have been detected by the police across Japan since last year.


At a meeting of the standing committee’s working group, a representative from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), one of the world’s largest nature conservation groups which participated as an observer, also made comments which acknowledge Japan as a problem. But the Japanese government countered by explaining its conventional stance that “the Japanese market is not involved in illegal trading.” As a result of discussion, Japan was instructed to submit a report on how it controls its ivory trade at a next meeting to be held in October next year.  


Emasculated system


But the Japanese government had not been just sitting back and watching things go by. The website of the “campaign for grasping ivory stock“ launched by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) in August this year calls for the registration of ivory items, showing a picture of the ivory displayed like a family treasure. Those who traded unregistered ivory items will face “up to five years in prison, or a fine of up to five million yen, or both.” Municipalities across the nation have also issued the notice on their own websites.


The registration system had been considered to be fundamental to a mechanism for preventing illegal trading. But the emasculation of the system, attributable to ivory dealers’ cunning tricks,  has become an issue over the past few years.


The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) this year filed criminal papers with prosecutors against an antiques dealer in Tokyo on suspicion of buying a lot of unregistered ivory items. An MPD official says, “Photos of ivory items applied for registration under different names were found to have been taken on the same carpet, which is unnatural. We’ve also found a template for a necessary document which can be easily used for application by just filling in a date.”


A sense of crisis


The government revised the LCES in June this year and rolled out a registration system for ivory dealers to replace the notification system. But at a meeting of the Upper House’s environment committee, which deliberated a bill to revise the LCES immediately before the revision, a lawmaker said, “Japan is sure to be criticized if it solely continues ivory trading in the domestic market amid a global trend of closing markets,” expressing a sense of crisis.


Lawyer Masayuki Sakamoto, Secretary General of Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund (JTEF), last month released a 250-page or so report titled “These many reasons for Japan to close its domestic ivory market.”  He bitterly criticized the MOF’s campaign by saying, “It’s intended to increase ivory dealers’ inventories.” Sakamoto also touched on the realities that an ivory registration agency can’t actually see applied ivory items and that ivory items are not marked for identification, which is necessary for follow-up surveys.  He said that the campaign “is encouraging laundering, in which illegal ivory items are falsely applied through unlawful means to send them to the legal market.”

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