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EIA: African Ivory Smuggled on Chinese State Visits
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EIA: African Ivory Smuggled on Chinese State Visits

Chinese officials and businesspeople used a state trip by President Xi Jinping and other high-level visits to smuggle ivory out of Tanzania, an environmental watchdog said Thursday, casting doubt over Beijing’s efforts to end the illegal trade that has led to rampant elephant poaching throughout Africa.
China is the world’s largest importer of smuggled tusks, and Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency said. Poaching in Tanzania alone has killed half of the country’s elephants in the past five years, the group said in the report.
It said Chinese-led criminal gangs conspired with corrupt Tanzanian officials to traffic huge amounts of ivory, some of which was loaded in diplomatic bags on Xi’s plane during a presidential visit in March 2013, reports AP.
China’s ministry of foreign affairs denied the report. Spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily briefing that China has “consistently” opposed poaching and has sought to crack down on ivory smuggling.
“The report is groundless, and we express our strong dissatisfaction,” Hong said.
Meng Xianlin, director general of the Endangered Species Import and Export Management Office of China, said he has never heard of involvement of Chinese delegations in ivory trade.
He said that the EIA has been “unfriendly to China for quite some time,” calling the allegations irresponsible.

 Black Market
The illicit trade began to explode in China in 2008, when Beijing was permitted to purchase 62 tons of ivory under the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species. The purchase was presented as a way to keep alive China’s traditional artisan ivory carving industry. A state-owned enterprise was authorized to sell the legal ivory to about 200 licensed factories and vendors.
Critics say the legal stockpile of ivory has provided a convenient cover for a thriving black market in recent years.The country’s licensing system is flawed and enforcement is lax, said Grace Ge Gabriel, Asian regional director for International Fund for Animal Welfare.
In its report, EIA said its investigators learned as early as 2006 that some staff members of the Chinese Embassy in Tanzania were major buyers of illegal ivory.
It said Chinese government officials and businesspeople in the entourage during Xi’s 2013 state visit used the opportunity to buy such a large amount of ivory that local prices doubled. Two traders claimed that Chinese buyers, two weeks before the visit, began purchasing thousands of kilograms of ivory, which was later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane, the EIA report said.
“Your president was here,” one of the traders told investigators in hidden video footage provided by the agency. “When he was here, many kilos go out.”
“When the guest come, the whole delegation, that’s time ... the business go out,” the trader said.

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