A government minister has promised that the UK will lead a fight to shut down the ivory trade in the EU, describing the issue as “a personal priority” for the foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
Speaking at a conservation summit in Botswana, the Africa minister, Harriet Baldwin, said: “The UK will lead by example. We will be shutting down our ivory trade. We will be working with the EU to do the same. That is something we can do irrespective of whether we are in the European Union or not.”
Earlier this month, the UK and France jointly called on the EU to ban the internal trade of raw – or newly-carved – ivory. So far, the bloc has only banned its export and many African nations would like to see EU states go further.
At the Giants Club summit on Friday, the presidents of Botswana, Uganda and Gabon led dozens of ministers in signing a call for the EU to close its domestic ivory market, end all ivory exports and work towards a global ban.
“If the EU gives us money to train rangers but still allows the exit of the trophies to the EU, that to me is a hypocrisy,” said Botswana’s environment minister, Tshekedi Khama.
“Let’s stop the flowery approach, that says: ‘I’ve ticked a box and I look good. I’ve given so much, but I’m still allowing you African range states to be challenged by poachers because I haven’t closed the European gates.’”
As the conference opened, the EU announced €1.5m of funding for a trans-frontier wildlife law enforcement network intended to cut poaching across Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe by 50% within three years.
Between 20-30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year and while the pace of slaughter is thought to be slowing in the continent’s east, it continues apace in central Africa and in new hotspots such as northern Mozambique.
In October, the UK will be hosting a conference aimed at tackling the illegal wildlife trade.
Baldwin said British foreign secretary Boris Johnson had made the issue “a personal priority, and is dedicated to ending the illegal ivory trade. He wants 2018 to be the year that real changes are made.”
She added that Johnson was “particularly excited by your proposals to create a cross border safe space for wildlife,” she added. “Ambitious ideas like this are what is needed if real change is going to be achieved.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs confirmed that artistic, cultural and historic artefacts would still be excluded from the proposed UK ban.