A three-step plan to phase out the local ivory trade by 2021 was approved by the Executive Council and will go before the legislature in the first half of next year.
Legislative amendments will involve banning the trade in elephant hunting trophies and ivory carvings, followed by a ban on ivory acquired before a 1975 convention regulating the trade in endangered species, and finally, a total ban on all sales of ivory obtained before 1990, when an international ban was enacted.
The proposals were drawn up in June following a surprise announcement by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in his policy address to explore enacting laws to ban the local ivory trade.
“The measures will send a very strong signal to the international community on Hong Kong’s determination to curb illicit trade in ivory,” environment minister Wong Kam-sing said on Thursday.
All possession licences to trade legal ivory stocks issued, extended, renewed or varied before the end of this year will expire by default by December 30, 2021.
Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Dr Leung Siu-fai, said maximum penalties and imprisonment terms would also be increased to set a stronger deterrent against wildlife crimes.
It is understood the government is considering raising the maximum penalty for the smuggling and illegal trading of endangered species from HK$5 million (almost R10 million) and two years’ imprisonment to HK$10 million (almost R20 million) and 10 years’ imprisonment.
“The measures will send a very strong signal to the international community on Hong Kong’s determination to curb illicit trade in ivory,” Mr Wong said.
WWF-Hong Kong conservation director Gavin Edwards welcomed the Exco endorsement of the ban and the incorporation of it in a new government biodiversity strategy and action plan.
“We urge legislators to follow through on the government promise to end this brutal trade as soon as possible and impose heavier penalties on wildlife crime offenders,” he said. “Maximum penalties of 10 years of imprisonment are both necessary and appropriate.”