Exclusive: Leaked documents indicate that the European Union is now preparing a full ban of raw ivory
Wednesday 22 February 2017 14.54 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 22 February 2017 14.55 GMT
The EU is set to ban raw ivory exports from 1 July as it struggles to deal with what was almost certainly another record year of ivory seizures across the continent in 2016.
Europe sells more raw and carved ivory to the world than anywhere else, feeding a seemingly insatiable appetite for elephant tusks in China and east Asia.
Although the international ivory trade has been largely banned since 1990, European vendors are legally allowed to export ivory “harvested” before that date, whether raw – whole tusks, ivory chunks or scraps – or worked by carving, polishing or engraving.
Traffickers can infiltrate this legal market by, for example, using falsified or forged internal EU trade certificates to pass their poached ivory off as lawful produce. These papers may serve as the basis for re-export certificate applications from Europe to east Asian countries, particularly China and Hong Kong.
But a draft EU guidance document seen by the Guardian indicates a possible 1 July date for an export ban on unprocessed ivory to “make sure that tusks of legal origin are not mixed with illegal ivory”.
Heirlooms, cultural artefacts and scientific and educational specimens would be partly exempted from the EU’s trade embargo.
The sanction would also not affect worked ivory items or the EU’s internal tusk trade, although rules would be tightened.
However, the political signal sent by the export ban was warmly welcomed by campaigners, after similar moves to squeeze the bloody trade in China and the US.
Catherine Bearder, the Liberal Democrat MEP whose wildlife crime report proposing a total ivory ban won overwhelming backing in parliament last year, said: “Blueprints are only as good as the actions that follow them so I am delighted that the commission is rolling up its sleeves to get on with the job. This really is a hopeful development.”