There has been rising international concern over the declining population of African savanna elephants as a result of ivory poaching, and the subsequent international trade in ivory. In 2016, the UK Government announced plans to ban the sale of ‘worked’ ivory produced since 1947. However, following concern about the proposals, in October 2017 the Government announced that it proposed to introduce a ban on the sale of all ivory. This Commons Library brief details UK and international policy and regulation of the ivory trade.Jump to full report >>
An international agreement in 1989 to effectively ban international trade in ivory was brought in under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). This agreement listed African elephant ivory on Appendix I to the Convention, meaning trade in ivory was limited to “exceptional circumstances.” This did not affect legal domestic markets, which were allowed to continue—and did so in many countries.
However, there has been rising international concern over the declining population of African savanna elephants. Between 2007 and 2014 the savanna elephant population declined by 30 percent, largely due to poaching. A recent census of the savanna elephant population found that “elephants are struggling both inside and outside parks.”
In the UK, the Government announced plans to ban the sale of ‘worked’ ivory produced since 1947 in September 2016. Internationally, the Conference of Parties to CITES accepted a non-binding resolution to phase out domestic ivory markets in October 2016.
UK ban on modern day ivory sales and the introduction of a total ban
The Government announced a ban on the sale of ‘worked’ ivory produced since 1947 on 21 September 2016. Trade in ornaments and works of art dating prior to1947, classified as ‘antique’, would be permitted. However, following concern about the proposals from NGOs and other interested parties, in October 2017 the Government announced that it proposed to introduce a ban on the sale of all ivory in order to “bring an end to elephant poaching”. It opened a 12-week consultation in October. The ban would include four categories of exemption, including the sale of musical instruments containing ivory.
The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (as amended) enforces CITES in the UK and provides for criminal offences. Under the regulations, the maximum penalty upon conviction is a five year prison sentence, a level five fine or both.
In September 2015, then US President Barack Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping together pledged to enact “near complete bans” on the import and export of ivory. In June 2016 the US Government introduced new regulations and at the end of 2016, China announced that it would introduce a ban on all ivory trade and processing activities by the end of 2017.
In October 2016, the 17th CITES Conference of Parties accepted a non-binding resolution to phase out domestic ivory markets. This was praised by conservation groups, such as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
France is another country which introduced a “near complete ban” on ivory trading in France and all overseas French territories in 2016.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7875
Authors: Elena Ares; Alison Pratt