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UN gives nod to ivory imports
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The United Nations on Tuesday granted China permission to import elephant ivory from Africa under strict conditions, the world body's spokesman for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) said.

In a deal reached last year in The Hague, the administrative capital of the Netherlands, four African countries - Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe - were given the right to make one-off sales of registered ivory stocks.

CITES spokesman Juan Carlos Vasquez said: "China was accepted as a trading partner to import ivory from the four authorized countries in southern Africa."

Wang Wei, deputy director of the department of wildlife conservation under China's State Forestry Administration said granting legal access to ivory will help prevent wildlife trafficking and in turn aid protection efforts.

To win the import rights, Beijing had to prove it had the capability and capacity to combat the illegal domestic trade in ivory.

Xu Hongfa, director of the World Wildlife Fund's TRAFFIC East Asia China Program, said while China's ivory management system has already had some success in curbing the illegal domestic trade, the new arrivals will provide further challenges.

A CITES committee on Tuesday agreed to the sale of 108 tons of raw ivory from the four countries, all of which came from elephants that had died from natural causes or were culled under a population-management program.

"That is all the four countries can sell, and they can sell it to Japan or China," Vasquez said.

However, this is purely a one-time sale, and not an agreement on the resumption of the global ivory trade, Xu said.

"It doesn't mean people can go to Africa and come back to China with a bag of ivory," he said.

The trade in ivory was banned around the world in 1989, but controlled trade was approved at a CITES meeting in 2002, and then modified to include new conditions at a second meeting in the Netherlands last year.

Under The Hague deal, the four African countries were given permission to sell ivory from stockpiles registered on Jan 31 of last year.

All monies raised will be used for conservation efforts and to develop local communities.

Wildlife protection organizations have said China should combine its purchases with conservation awareness programs to let its citizens overseas know it is illegal to buy and take home African ivory.

Susan Lieberman, director of the WWF International's species program, said in a statement:

"The only way to end elephant poaching is through an effective clampdown on illegal domestic ivory markets."

(Agencies via China Daily July 17, 2008)

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