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China Dismisses Critics of UN's Decision on African Ivory Trade License


China has dismissed critics of the United Nations decision to allow Beijing to buy ivory from Africa. Some wildlife protection organizations say the license to legally trade will only encourage smuggling and elephant poaching. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

China's Foreign Ministry has disputed concerns that China cannot adequately police its trade in ivory. A United Nations' committee in charge of regulating the trade voted Tuesday to grant China the right to bid in an auction, along with Japan, for African ivory.

The panel's majority agreed that China had improved its ivory trade monitoring and could participate in a one-off sale of 108 tons of African ivory.

Ivory trading was banned in 1989 to discourage poaching of a shrinking population of elephants. Controlled trade in ivory was approved in 2002 provided that the elephants died of natural causes or were killed as part of population management.

The measures reduced the illegal trade and poaching but have not completely stopped the problem.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao says Beijing has passed a series of laws and strictly cracked down on ivory smugglers and illegal traders.

He says illegal smuggling and sales of ivory in China has plummeted remarkably and that many international experts who visited China have made objective assessments of China's efforts and achievements. He says China hopes organizations can objectively report the facts.

At least two African nations, Ghana and Kenya, and two wildlife protection groups are opposed to the decision. They say allowing China's participation would simply encourage the illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, a non-governmental organization that monitors the illegal wildlife trade, says China has done a poor job preventing illegal ivory sales.

The agency revealed that China lost track of 110 tons of government ivory stocks that were probably sold on illegal markets, between 1991 and 2002.

Allan Thornton, the chairman of the agency, says China is the largest smuggler of ivory in the world.

"China having legal ivory trade will provide a cover for more illegal ivory, because legal trade just makes it very, very difficult to delineate between what's legal and what's illegal," he said.

Other wildlife protection groups, like the World Wildlife Fund and TRAFFIC, support China's application. They say China should use the opportunity to assist African countries in their conservation programs and increase awareness among Chinese about the illegal ivory trade.

Ivory is very popular in China and used to make jewelry and for elaborate carvings.

Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have seen their elephant numbers increase and will sell ivory at the auction set for later this year.

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