Civic Exchange’s New Report Highlights the Need for Sustainability of Wildlife Trade in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, 30 September 2014 … Independent policy think tank Civic Exchange today launched a new publication Taking from the Wild: Moving Towards Sustainability in Hong Kong’s Wildlife Trade. The report explores the state of wildlife trade in Hong Kong and the issue of inadequate regulation and monitoring of the trade, and provides recommendations on how the sustainability of the trade could be improved.

Hong Kong is an important regional hub for wildlife trade, but it only regulates a fraction of the trade, giving protection to endangered species that are listed on the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Outside of ratifying CITES in local laws, Hong Kong provides no protection or limits on the trade of other threatened wildlife and related products that cross its border daily.

As an importer of wildlife products, Hong Kong has been sourcing part of its wildlife products from countries that lack wildlife protection regulation and/or have inadequate capacities to enforce such laws. This means that imported wildlife products could be illegally harvested, or over-exploits the environment beyond sustainable levels. This contributes greatly to pushing many animal and plant species to the point of extinction.

The report highlights four cases of wildlife trade that illustrate the gravity and complexity of the problem, and offers possible solutions to address current failings. These cases include:

  • Elephant Ivory – Hong Kong continues to be a major destination and transit hub for the illegal trade of ivory, with volumes intercepted increasing in the past 3 years. Its role as a trade hub has helped it accumulate a huge stockpile of seized ivory, at 33 tonnes. The HKSAR Government’s committed to destroying 28 tonnes of this stockpile in early 2014.
  • Timber – many of the world’s major timber exporting countries lack the regulation and enforcement to protect their forests and combat the smuggling of illegal timber. It means that a portion of timber that is imported to Hong Kong, estimated at 30 per cent, could be from such illegal sources.
  • Shark Fins – recent import reductions into Hong Kong may be a signal of a broad cultural shift in perceptions and preference for shark fin soup locally. Import volumes of shark fins into Hong Kong have reduced by 50 per cent since 2011.
  • Live Reef Food Fish – Hong Kong accounts for about 70-80 per cent of the global trade in live reef fish. Sustained demand from Hong Kong and growing markets on the Mainland, however, are outpacing regenerative capacity of reef fish in South-East Asia.

The case studies show the gaps in regulation, enforcement and monitoring of wildlife trade in Hong Kong. Besides the aforementioned regulatory gaps, enforcement of wildlife products that enter Hong Kong’s borders needs to be improved. While illicit wildlife products do get intercepted at border checkpoints, this does not always lead to successful prosecution. In addition, data collected by customs authorities could help build a comprehensive picture of the trade, but for many wildlife products, the trade data collected lack the level of resolution to show what species are being traded. These gaps are undermining the survival of numerous species, and could be having a negative effect on the environment in its trading partner countries. “Hong Kong’s huge dependence on our worldwide trading partners for local consumption and trade means that it has a global responsibility to ensure that these natural resources are managed sustainably”, said Wilson Lau, the report’s author.

With Hong Kong as one of the major regional hubs for the trade in wildlife and related products, adopting more stringent sustainability standards locally could have a positive impact on source countries. “Hong Kong could become a catalyst for a shift towards sustainability, but it has a lot more to do”, said Yan-yan Yip, CEO of Civic Exchange. “The report provides some suggestions on how to get there.”

The report provides several recommendations to improve the sustainability of wildlife trade in Hong Kong, chief of which is the need for a firm commitment by the HKSAR Government to tackle the illegal elements of the trade as an essential first step. This should be complemented by efforts to:

  • Regulate the legal wildlife trade – laws that direct wildlife traders from Hong Kong to ensure that their imports are from legal sources; and for the HKSAR Government to develop bilateral partnerships to influence more sustainable natural resource management.
  • More effective enforcement at Hong Kong’s borders – develop a traceability system for imported CITES-listed animals and plants, using appropriate species marking (such as microchips, tags, barcodes, etc.), as proof of legal origins once the wildlife product reaches the local market.
  • Improve trade transparency and monitoring – further advance the development of custom codes that enable the identification of imported wildlife by species; and improve scientific scrutiny of wildlife imports by making public the source country’s findings on sustainable export limits of CITES-listed species.
  • Develop supportive, non-trade measures to tackle wildlife crimes – develop public registry of company beneficial owners; increase investigative capacity to properly enforce Hong Kong’s anti-money laundering laws; develop awareness campaigns that is targeted at reducing the consumption of wildlife trade overall, not only of the parts of the trade that is deemed illegal.

“Hong Kong is currently reviewing its biodiversity conservation policies as it develops a Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan”, Yip adds. “It is vital that this process includes biodiversity that is imported from elsewhere, that leads to strong actions to reduce the city’s global footprint.”

Download full report:

Taking from the Wild: Moving Towards Sustainability in Hong Kong’s Wildlife Trade

English full report:

Chinese executive summary:


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