The days of ivory sales in Hong Kong are numbered. At least that's the government's plan after announcing this week that it will completely abolish the trade in elephant tusks in the former British colony, the world's largest retail market for the product.
This is the first legal step that Hong Kong will take to close down this business that moves interests around the planet and follows the example of China.
President Xi Jinping pledged last September with his US counterpart Barack Obama to fight this business by containing internal and external trade in both nations, historically considered the largest claimants in the world.
"The Hong Kong proposal goes a step further," said Alex Hofford, the head of the international organization WildAid on the Chinese island, which aims to eliminate the illegal trade in fauna and wildlife, noting that the The city intends to close the 413 businesses that currently sell this product "legally and illegally."
In the absence of knowing the legal and temporal framework for this ban, Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong's chief executive, highlighted his commitment to carry it out "as quickly" as "possible", aware that this reform "will require legislative modifications ”that did not materialize during its announcement this week.
The government proposal is close to completing the three-year campaign that WildAid launched in Hong Kong and with which it aims to considerably reduce the bleeding from the capture of elephants in Africa, whose population, according to the organization, has been reduced by about 58 percent in the last 40 years.
"We do not have a closed action schedule but we do hope that the government's next step will be to announce, in time, to the more than 400 businesses that they have six months or one year to close," said Hofford .
From the other side, that of the ivory merchants and artisans, the announcement of the ban does not catch them by surprise, but they have asked for compensation for the future closure of their businesses, and that is why they propose that it be the government that acquires the material that they currently have in their stores and that they will no longer be able to put on sale.
Data extracted from the government qualify the amount of ivory currently for sale in Hong Kong at 111,000 kilos, the average price of which is $ 1,000 per kilo.
"You have to wonder if Hong Kong taxpayers are willing to tolerate the government spending more than one hundred million dollars to compensate those responsible for a commercial sector that has shown that it has carried out illegal practices," Hofford told Efe.
His organization infiltrated several of these businesses to verify that behind the counters they were offering ivory merchandise considered illegal.
According to WildAid, an average of 35,000 elephants are poached in Africa each year, despite the fact that the first international agreement that entered into force in 1990 to ban the global trade in African elephant tusk reduced the trafficking of this commodity to historical indices.
However, the economic boom in neighboring China in recent years and the authorization to market ivory obtained from dead animals before 1990 were key factors in putting Hong Kong back at the forefront of this retail market.
The organization estimates that 90 percent of all ivory arriving in China does so through Hong Kong. Its border, among the busiest in the world, is still an illegal drain to get these goods through, despite more rigorous controls being established.
Now the future and expected definitive closure of this business in Hong Kong will set its sights on the markets of the region, such as Thailand and Japan, where the ivory trade remains legal and is becoming stronger. There, experts say, will arrive the new demand that will be diverted from Hong Kong.