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Editorial: Plug loopholes in Japan’s market to put a stop to illegal ivory trade

  • February 22, 2018
  • , The Japan News , 8:00 p.m.
  • English Press

International momentum for strengthened market controls to prevent illegal trade in ivory is growing. Japan too needs to take appropriate steps to ensure the nation does not become used as a “loophole” for smuggling ivory to China and other nations.


The Chinese government prohibited all domestic trade in ivory from this year. It seems that this ban was aimed at deflecting international criticism of China’s ivory trade, by stemming the rampant poaching of African elephants and the smuggling of their tusks.


Ivory is prized for lucky charms in China, which has become the world’s largest market for the material. Demand for ivory increased along with a rise in the number of wealthy people, brought about by China’s rapid economic growth.


International trade in ivory has been banned since 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly called the Washington Convention. However, there has been no end to cases in which Chinese people have been arrested for attempting to illegally transport ivory. It is pointed out that international criminal organizations and terrorist groups are involved in these activities to make money.


At a 2015 summit meeting, the United States and China agreed on a plan to work toward banning the domestic trade in ivory in their countries. Since this agreement was reached by these two large ivory markets, there have been increased moves to clamp down on the illegal ivory trade.


Hong Kong, from where illegal shipments of ivory to mainland China have been rife, also has decided to totally ban domestic trade in ivory from the end of 2021.


The European Union also is preparing to create new regulations on ivory.


Intl cooperation vital


A huge amount of ivory was imported into Japan until the 1980s. Ivory that has been registered with an organization under the jurisdiction of the government can be bought and sold within Japan. Some ivory has been sold for ¥1 million or more even for one piece. The ivory is processed into personal seals, plectrums for shamisen three-stringed lutes, accessories and other items.


The government has taken a passive stance on banning the domestic ivory trade because it believes smuggled tusks from overseas are not coming onto Japan’s market.


The problem is that ivory and ivory products from Japan continue to be taken to China. According to an analysis by an international environmental group, two tons of ivory were seized in 106 cases in which Chinese authorities blocked ivory and ivory products brought from Japan from 2011 to 2016.


There has been a noticeable number of cases in which Japanese souvenir shops that handle ivory products knowingly sell these items to foreigners despite being aware they will be taken overseas, and cases of ivory bought in online auctions ending up in other countries.


If this situation is left unaddressed, criticism from the international community that “the Japanese government’s regulations are insufficient” will inevitably grow.


From June, the government will change the notification system for operators handling ivory to a registration system, and increase penalties for operators who break the rules. This system will need to be strictly implemented to weed out dishonest dealers.


It also will be essential for customs to step up monitoring of ivory, and for investigative information to be shared more with authorities in China and other Asian nations.


(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 22, 2018)

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