GENEVA – An increasing number of elephant ivory products illegally trafficked from Japan have been seized in China, following Beijing’s closure of China’s domestic market in 2017, recent research by a U.S. conservation group shows.
At least 23 seizures in China were reported in the first half of this year, compared with four in the whole of 2018, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency.
The EIA has pointed out that Japan may have become a new supplier of ivory products to China due to Tokyo’s lax regulation measures, and has criticized it for hindering international efforts to eradicate unlawful transactions.
China has banned its domestic ivory trade, as have the United States, France and Singapore, but Japan has maintained trading within the country, saying it is unrelated to poaching. Tokyo is often criticized as a hotbed of ivory trade from poached African elephants.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics approaching, Japan could face more international pressure to prevent foreign visitors, or athletes coming to the country for the games, from illegally taking ivory goods abroad.
The EIA research revealed that ivory items weighing 18 kilograms in total were found in 13 postal parcels sent from Japan to Guangzhou in southern China in January.
In May, a Chinese passenger was caught with 80 ivory items upon arrival at an airport from Japan. The items were believed to have been taken into China for sale, according to the group.
The finding by the conservation group may affect discussions at an ongoing meeting of signatories to the Washington Convention in Geneva set to run through Aug. 28. A resolution has been moved in the gathering to urge all countries to close their domestic ivory markets.
International ivory trading was banned in principle in 1990 under the Washington Convention, officially called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
In 2016, Washington Convention members adopted a resolution calling on each government to shut down their domestic markets in case they are “contributing to poaching or illegal trade.”
But Japan decided to keep its internal ivory trade, claiming that its domestic market was been strictly controlled.
Japan tightened controls on its internationally maligned ivory market in July, requiring dealers to prove via carbon dating that specimens were legally obtained.
Under the system, ivory that remains in its original form and that was obtained prior to the convention taking effect is permitted to be traded in Japan after it is registered with the Japan Wildlife Research Center.
Individuals who wish to trade ivory in the country have to report how it was acquired, while providing third-party testimony on its provenance. Carbon dating to show the age of ivory became an absolute prerequisite from July 1, making ivory obtained from recent poaching impossible to register and sell.
However, undercover EIA research carried out last year in Japan found that more than half of about 300 ivory goods stores, which typically handle items such as hanko (personal stamps), expressed their intention to sell them to clients even if they were likely to take the pieces abroad illegally.