African countries divided over ivory trade

In this hand-out photo released by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), received in London on January 4, 2019, a scientist drills an ivory sample in the WildGenes laboratory based at Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland on November 7, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 07 January 2019
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African countries divided over ivory trade

  • An illegal ivory market in Vietnam and other countries is feeding demand in China, which banned its domestic ivory trade, according to O’Criodain

JOHANNESBURG: Several African countries with some of the world’s largest elephant populations will push this year for looser controls on legal ivory trade, while another group of countries on the continent says more restrictions are the best way to curb the illegal killing of elephants for their tusks.
The dueling proposals reflect divisions within Africa over how to safeguard a species that has been killed in massive numbers by poachers over the past decade and to what extent elephant parts, including ivory, skin and hair, can be sustainably traded as commodities. They pit southern African countries including Botswana and Zimbabwe that say commerce will help them pay to conserve elephants against Kenya, Gabon and others that believe even limited trade fuels demand and drives up illegal killing.
The proposals were released by the office of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES. They will be discussed when member countries of CITES meet May 23-June 3 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. At the last meeting in Johannesburg in 2016, CITES rejected appeals to relax an international ban on the ivory trade that has been in place for decades.
“There isn’t really any appetite in the international community to agree to this,” said Colman O’Criodain, a wildlife trade expert with the WWF conservation group. He said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Saturday that the Sri Lanka meeting should focus on enforcing anti-trafficking measures instead of engaging in “sterile debates” about whether to trade legally.
An illegal ivory market in Vietnam and other countries is feeding demand in China, which banned its domestic ivory trade, according to O’Criodain. Meanwhile, the main exit points for African ivory from the continent are the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the Tanzanian region of Zanzibar and to a lesser extent Maputo, Mozambique’s seaside capital, he said.
A southern African proposal said Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa have about 256,000 elephants, or more than half of the total estimate for Africa. Protecting elephants as human populations increase and wildlife habitats shrink comes at a big cost, and a closely regulated trade in government-owned stocks of ivory will help to alleviate the burden, it said.
“CITES has acted as an inhibitor and not an enabler of progress,” the proposal said.
Zambia made a similar proposal, saying elephants are competing with people in rural areas for resources and that Zambians would be more tolerant if they see “economic returns earned from the sustainable use of elephant.”
The debate touches on sovereignty issues. Countries that want southern Africa’s elephants to be subject to tighter controls include Gabon, whose forest elephants have been heavily poached, and Nigeria, which has a very small number left. The southern African countries believe countries with their own problems, including weak law enforcement, shouldn’t impose policy on others.
Writing in Zimbabwe’s The Herald, columnist Emmanuel Koro said it was time for southern African countries to act in their “national interests” and consider refusing to go along with CITES-supported bans on the trade in ivory as well as rhino horn. Japan’s recent decision to leave the International Whaling Commission could serve as a guide, he suggested.
O’Criodain, the WWF specialist, cautioned against countries taking the view that “it’s their right to trade and that the consequences are other people’s problems.”


UK PM Theresa May loses historic Brexit vote

Updated 17 min 54 sec ago
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UK PM Theresa May loses historic Brexit vote

  • Defeat now raises the question about whether she will try again, is removed from office, delays Brexit -- or if Brexit even happens at all
  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tables a motion of no confidence in May's government

LONDON: Britain’s parliament on Tuesday resoundingly rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, triggering a no-confidence vote in her government and plunging its plans to leave the EU into further chaos.
MPs voted 432 to 202 against May’s plan for taking Britain out of the European Union, the biggest parliamentary defeat for a government in modern British political history.
With a deal that took nearly two years to craft in tatters and her government’s future hanging in the balance, EU leaders sounded a note of exasperation, urging Britain to come out and say what it actually wants.
“If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” EU president Donald Tusk tweeted.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, warned of a heightened risk of a “no deal” Brexit — an outcome that could disrupt trade, slow down the UK economy, and wreak havoc on the financial markets.
The government of Ireland — the only EU member state with a land border with Britain — said it would now intensify preparations to cope with a “disorderly Brexit.”
And German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, representing the EU’s most dominant economy and leading political voice, called the vote “a bitter day for Europe.”
Most lawmakers have always opposed Brexit, as have some leading members of the government, creating a contradiction that has been tearing apart Britain ever since a June 2016 referendum began its divorce from the other 27 EU states.
Moments after Tuesday’s outcome, which was met with huge cheers by hundreds of anti-Brexit campaigners who watched the vote on big screens, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn submitted a motion of no-confidence in May’s government, calling her defeat “catastrophic.”
The vote is expected on Wednesday at 1900 GMT.
May sought to strike a conciliatory tone, telling MPs they had the right to challenge her leadership and promising to hold more talks to salvage a workable solution by the rapidly approaching March 29 Brexit deadline.
She promised to hold discussions with MPs from across parliament to identify ideas “that are genuinely negotiable and have sufficient support in this House.”
“If these meetings yield such ideas, the government will then explore them with the European Union.”
Downing Street said May will then return to parliament with a new Brexit proposal on Monday.
With their nation again in turmoil, noisy supporters and opponents of Brexit, rallied outside the ancient parliament building in London.
“It could end up being the day that will lead to us leaving with no deal!” said 25-year-old Simon Fisher, who backs a swift and sharp break with the EU.
A much larger rally nearby in support of a second referendum turned Parliament Square, dotted with statues of past UK leaders, into a sea of EU flags.
Economists said the scale of May’s defeat — on the upper end of most predictions — now also put pressure on Brussels to make more meaningful compromises.
The pound surged higher against the dollar and euro after the vote, seemingly buoyed by May’s promise to seek a compromise with her opponents.
“Markets project beliefs and the underlying belief is that nobody’s going to be committing economic suicide,” BK Asset Management’s Boris Schlossberg said.
But businesses voiced alarm about the outcome, which does nothing to resolve uncertainty that has been dampening the UK investment climate for months.
“Financial stability must not be jeopardized in a game of high-stakes political poker,” warned Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, the body governing the British capital’s massive financial district.
May made it her mission to carry out the wishes of voters after she became prime minister a month after the referendum, putting aside her own initial misgivings and stating repeatedly that “Brexit means Brexit.”
But her deal raised concern that Britain could end up locked in an unfavorable trading relationship with the EU.
Criticism of the deal was focused on an arrangement to keep open the border with Ireland by aligning Britain with some EU trade rules, if and until London and Brussels sign a new economic partnership — a tortuous process that could take several years.
Arlene Foster, head of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party upon which May relies for her parliamentary majority, said May needed to win binding concessions from Brussels to secure her vote.
“Reassurances whether in the form of letters or warm words, will not be enough,” said Foster.
“The prime minister must now go back to the European Union and seek fundamental change to the Withdrawal Agreement.”
Speculation is growing on both sides of the Channel that May could ask to delay Britain’s divorce from the EU after almost half a century of membership.
But a diplomatic source told AFP any extension would not be possible beyond June 30, when the new European Parliament will be formed.