The Hague, 14 June 2007 - Eighteen years after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) banned the ivory trade, Ministers from the African elephant range states have for the first time achieved a regional consensus on how to address this highly charged issue.
Under the compromise agreement reached today, each of four southern African countries will be permitted to make a single sale of ivory on top of the one-off sale totalling 60 tonnes that was agreed in principle in 2002 and given the go-ahead earlier this month.
The ivory for these new sales will consist of all government-owned stocks that have been registered and verified as of 31 January 2007. Each sale is to consist of a single shipment per destination and may only go to countries whose internal controls on ivory sales have been verified as being sufficient by the CITES Secretariat.
The agreement stipulates that after these shipments have been completed no new proposals for further sales from these four countries are to be considered by CITES during a "resting period" of nine years that will commence as soon as the new sales have been completed.
In the meantime, the CITES Standing Committee, which oversees the implementation of CITES decisions when the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP) is not in session, will work on developing a new and more effective approach to taking future decisions on the international ivory trade.
"This African solution to an African problem marks a great step forward for wildlife conservation," said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers. "It is good news for the elephant, good news for the people who live alongside them and good news for regional cooperation in Africa."
The long-running global debate over the African elephant has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living side by side with elephants and concerns that such sales may encourage poaching.
CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989. Then, in 1997, recognizing that some southern African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, it permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale of a stock of ivory to Japan totalling 50 tonnes. The sales took place in 1999 and earned some USD 5 million.
In 2002, CITES agreed in principle to allow a second sale from Botswana (20 tonnes), Namibia (10 tonnes) and South Africa (30 tonnes). (In 2004 a request that CITES authorize annual quotas was not agreed.) The one-time sales were made conditional on the ability of the MIKE programme (Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants) to establish up-to-date and comprehensive baseline data on elephant poaching and population levels. MIKE was established to provide an objective assessment of what impact future ivory sales may have on elephant populations and poaching.
The CITES Standing Committee determined on 2 June of this year that the MIKE baseline data have now been assembled and that the sales could go forward.
For this year's conference, Botswana and Namibia jointly submitted a new proposal to ease the conditions for permitting future sales of ivory. In addition, Botswana requested authorization for a one-off sale of 40 tonnes of existing ivory stocks followed by an annual export quota of up to eight tonnes of ivory per year from its national population.
Taking the opposing view, Kenya and Mali proposed that a ban on trade in raw or worked ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe be imposed for a period of 20 years. They argued that allowing any trade in ivory will increase the poaching of elephants.
The African range States met separately throughout the course of the current CITES conference in an effort to bridge their differences. With the help of Ministers attending yesterday's Ministerial segment, they managed today to reach the consensus described above.
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