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Environment Minister Masaharu Nakagawa denies claims that Japan has been a hotbed for illegal ivory exports even after a wildlife watchdog urged Japan to stop fueling the internationally outlawed trade practice.

“We have been bolstering distribution management in the market and taking necessary measures,” following a call by the wildlife trade monitoring body Traffic of the conservation group WWF to shut the market,” Nakagawa said Friday.

In a study released Wednesday, Traffic said the continued absence of effective regulations and law enforcement makes Japan a lucrative market for organized smuggling of ivory to China.

Nakagawa did acknowledge some cases in which Chinese people purchased ivory in Japan and took it abroad, adding, “We want to closely monitor the situation and take further measures if controls need to be strengthened.” Domestic trade in ivory, used to make seals and accessories, is legal in Japan.

The Traffic report revealed how Japan’s antiques and tourist markets are aiding illegal ivory exports through routine purchases by visitors and professional dealers. Its review of seizure records showed unlawful exports of ivory from Japan totaled about 2.4 tons between 2011 and 2016.

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