President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China today announced a detailed and shared commitment to end the global trade in ivory. President Xi said his country would match the U.S.’s commitment to stop any commercial trade in ivory, in a stunning announcement that dramatically fortifies a prior statement on the subject from a senior Chinese leader.
This coming-together of the two largest ivory-consuming countries is a watershed moment for the efforts to stop commercial trade in ivory, and it is the first time that a U.S. President and a Chinese President have made a specific pledge about saving wildlife, elevating the wildlife trafficking crisis into the diplomatic discourse among the world’s most important global political leaders.
The joint statement specifically commits the two countries to “enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic trade of ivory.” The two countries will also build on existing efforts to cooperate on law enforcement, public education and other steps to combat wildlife trafficking.
For those of us who have long been troubled by China’s animal welfare record, this is no small moment. It undoubtedly required extraordinary and smart diplomatic engagement by the Administration and our U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It is also a testament to the Chinese leaders’ growing recognition that the country’s actions on the ivory trade is intertwined with its international image and interests. Many NGOs have been pushing awareness or demand reduction programs, including our global affiliate, Humane Society International, reaching millions of people in China.
The timing is opportune. The United States itself is in the midst of revising regulations to curtail the domestic ivory trade to reduce U.S. role in the global ivory trade. The Administration and the animal protection and conservation communities have long held the view that the U.S. actions on the ivory trade reverberate beyond our borders and have an impact on China, the largest destination for illegal ivory. The naysayers, such as the National Rifle Association and the pro-ivory traders, say otherwise and are pulling all the stops to undermine the Administration’s actions to tighten control over the domestic ivory trade, which is why it is important for us to continue to support the Administration’s effort to finalize the proposed rule and to make sure it is as strong as possible. Today’s joint statement underscores the conservation leadership and diplomatic influence of the United States, and it makes the opponents of the Administration’s efforts look even more marginal than they are. The NRA and other groups are now trailing the government of China.
The Pope’s visit to the United States was extraordinary. But President Xi’s visit here may yield even more consequential outcomes, could be the beginning of the end of the cruel ivory trade.