GENEVA – A panel of an international convention on endangered species decided Wednesday not to adopt a resolution calling for an early shutdown of domestic ivory markets, including widely criticized ivory markets in the European Union and Japan.
Instead, participants of the panel of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES, agreed to report preventive measures against the poaching of elephants and illegal trade to the standing committee next year.
In 1990, international ivory trading was banned in principle under CITES, which is also known as the Washington Convention. Many countries including the United States, the U.K., China and Singapore have banned domestic ivory trading, while Japan maintains a domestic market under the claim that it is strictly controlled.
The European Union currently has, at least in theory, stringent rules on ivory sales within its borders.
It’s illegal to export elephant tusks out of the EU, and only objects dated before 1947 can be bought without paperwork — any ivory from after that date requires a certificate to purchase.
But last year, a joint study between the University of Oxford and conservation group Avaaz showed that as much as a fifth of ivory objects came from elephants killed after the global trade ban.
Campaigners say it is still too easy to trade illegal ivory.
During the panel meeting on Wednesday, participants discussed the resolution proposed by African signatories such as Kenya and Nigeria, where African elephants are often poached for their ivory tusks.
Although the resolution criticized Japan for its continued domestic ivory trading, divided views among members prompted the United States to present an alternative plan to report preventive steps against illicit activities next year.
The U.S. proposal was adopted unanimously.
In 2016, Washington Convention members adopted a resolution calling on each government to shut down its domestic market so as to avoid the possibility of “contributing to poaching or illegal trade.”
Poaching has decimated the world elephant population, which has slumped in Africa from several million at the turn of the 19th century to around 400,000 in 2015.
According to conservation group WWF, as many as 60 percent of all elephant deaths can be blamed on poaching.
The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation, which campaigns against the ivory trade, says that between 2007 and 2014, 144,000 elephants were killed across Africa — the equivalent of one death every 15 minutes.
Conservationists welcomed the increased scrutiny agreed upon at Wednesday’s meeting, but warned it was not enough.
“We are moving in the right direction, but we don’t have time to waste,” Sarah Morrison of Avaaz said.
“We urgently need to close all domestic markets and make sure we put the lives of elephants first.”
Philip Muruthi of the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) agreed, stressing that “there isn’t enough ivory in the world to satisfy current demand.”
“As long as a market exists for ivory, you can be sure that elephants are being killed to sustain it.”
The WWF said the world needed “a better understanding of what constitutes an effective market closure” in order to seal off loopholes.
During Wednesday’s debate, the EU hinted new regulations were soon to be introduced across the bloc.
Matthew Collis, policy chief at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), welcomed that, insisting though that any changes to the EU rules should “shut down ivory markets in the EU with all but extremely limited exemptions, in line with actions taken by other nations like China, the U.S. and the U.K.”