Environmental activists support a ban on ivory outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong on Wednesday. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The Hong Kong legislature voted Wednesday to ban all ivory sales by 2021.
Sales of new ivory has been prohibited in Hong Kong for nearly 30 years under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Merchants have been allowed to sell "antique" ivory imported before that policy went into effect, but critics of the ivory trade say elephant tusks are still imported illegally and then sold legally on Hong Kong streets.
The ban, which passed 49-4, effectively closes that loophole, marking a win for animal rights activists who have advocated for a total ban on ivory sales.
"Hong Kong has always been the 'heart of darkness' of the ivory trade with a 670-ton stockpile when international trade was banned in 1989," Alex Hofford, a campaigner with WildAid Hong Kong said in a statement. "With great support from the Hong Kong people, our five-year campaign has finally paid off."
Although the ban had nearly unanimous support from Hong Kong legislators, some had concerns about the ivory merchants who will soon have their livelihoods criminalized.
Liberal Party member Peter Shiu Ka-fai, who voted against the ban, said there are 370 licensed ivory wholesalers with 77 tons of legal ivory and 100 craftsmen who are over the age of 60, the South China Morning Post reported.
"This ban has disregarded the interests of the industry," Shiu said.
"To expect ivory traders in their 60s to change industries is impractical," he added. "Do you expect them to take online courses?"
Shiu said the government should provide compensation and job re-training for ivory merchants and craftsmen. But other lawmakers, including Civic Party lawmaker and barrister Dennis Kwok, were against compensation and said the ban takes too long to go into effect.
"The traders have a long time to get prepared for the prohibition," Kwok said.