The Chief Executive in Council has approved a three-step plan to phase out Hong Kong’s ivory trade by the end of 2021.

“The measures will send a very strong signal to the international community on Hong Kong’s determination,” Secretary for Environment Wong Kam-sing said.

The government is preparing to roll out legislation for the ban in the first half of 2017.

AFCD director Leung Siu-fai (left) and the Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing (right). Photo: HKFP.

Wong said the government considered “the most timely and speedy way to ban local ivory trade” when asked about the delay.

“Certainly there are constraints… the current proposal is actually the best way to address the said issue,” he said.

Old and new stock

The three steps are designed to phase out ivory products with respect to the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in the 1970s.

A cameraman films seized ivory tusks displayed prior to their destruction by incineration in Hong Kong on May 15, 2014. File photo: Philippe Lopez /AFP.

Step one is to immediately ban the import and re-export of all elephant hunting trophies and any remaining post-Convention ivory items.

Step two is to ban the import and re-export of pre-Convention ivory, and to subject those in the local market to licensing control three months after the step one ban. It will become an offence to possess pre-Convention ivory for commercial purposes without a Licence to Possess.

The final step is to ban the possession of all ivory for commercial purposes. It will take effect on December 31, 2021, but the government said the measures to be implemented in steps two and three will not be applicable to antique ivory.

File Photo: Alex Hofford / WildAid

All the Licences to Possess set to be issued, extended, renewed or varied on or after December 31 this year will expire on or before December 30, 2021 in order to prepare for the measures.

The government said that, with a five-year grace period, “it is unlikely that the phasing out of the local ivory trade will cause much impact” as many ivory traders have already undergone business transformations.

Higher penalty

The government said it will also increase the penalties under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance through the same legislative exercise.

Protesters call for the end of elephant slaughtering for ivory last year. Photo: Alex Hofford.

Alex Hofford of NGO WildAid told HKFP that, according to a government source, the penalty for wildlife crime may be extended to a maximum of ten years. He said that the penalty is long enough under Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance to trigger the Organised and Serious Crime Ordinance. He added that this would give police investigative powers to “finally smash the organised crime syndicates based in Hong Kong that have been running illegal wildlife products through this city with impunity for decades.”

AFCD director Leung Siu-fai (left) and the Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing (right). Photo: HKFP.

“To date, not a single kingpin has been arrested to date for running serious and organised wildlife trafficking syndicates that are driving iconic species towards extinction, not to mention costing many people their lives in Africa,” Hofford said. “If Hong Kong lawmakers support the government’s proposal in the first half of 2017, that could change for the better.”

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.