The Hong Kong government voted Wednesday to end domestic ivory trade following a similar move in China earlier this year.
The Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants (Amendment) Bill 2017, aka the Hong Kong Ivory Ban Bill, furthers a proposed plan submitted in 2016 to gradually phase out Hong Kong’s ivory trade by 2021.
The plan works in three parts. First, the government will ban the import and re-export of all elephant-hunting trophies. In the next step, the government will ban trading of “pre-Convention” ivory (before 1976) and instate stricter licensing regulations. Lastly, possession of commercial ivory will be completely banned on December 31, 2021, shutting down local trade.
Exceptions are made for science, education, law enforcement, and personal or household effects.
The bill also increases maximum penalties, fines, and imprisonment terms for both commercial and non-commercial offenses.
Opponents say the government should compensate traders in some way.
Proponents say it is a key step in the long process of shutting down global ivory markets and protecting elephants from poaching. Some say the ban should be implemented sooner, arguing the window gives smugglers more time to get ivory into mainland China.
Just last year, 7.2 tonnes of ivory were confiscated in Hong Kong – the biggest ivory bust in 30 years.
The international ivory trade was banned in 1990 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but domestic trade was left unregulated. Since then, more than 30,000 elephants have been killed each year for their ivory.
In 2016, the United Nations agreed to shut down domestic ivory trade, but the motion was not legally binding and a handful of nations, including Hong Kong, didn’t follow suit immediately.
Japan is now the largest open market for ivory. Thailand has restricted trade and is considering a ban, according to Wild Aid.
“I call on all governments in Asia to follow China and Hong Kong’s lead by enacting their own domestic ivory ban legislation now,” said Hong Kong lawmaker Hon. Elizabeth Quat in a statement.
For more than 30 years, the Asian elephant has been listed as endangered. Populations have been reduced by at least 50 percent in the last three generations because of poaching. A recent estimate suggests there are at most 40,000 Asian elephants left in the world.
For now, conservationists say the vote is a win.