China Promises to Ban Ivory Trade by December 31, 2017

Announcement is a “Game Changer” in Race to Save African Elephants

BEIJING — In the most important step yet to ending the global ivory trade, the Chinese government today announced a one-year timeline for its promised ivory ban. According to the notice, China will begin phasing out registered legal ivory processors and traders by March 31, 2017 and shut down its legal commercial ivory trade completely by December 31, 2017.

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping committed  to ban China’s domestic ivory market. China later committed to deliver a timeline for implementation of the ban by the end of 2016, resulting in today’s announcement.

Following is a statement from Elly Pepper, deputy director of wildlife trade for the Natural Resources Defense Council:

“China has shown great leadership in the fight to save African elephants. Setting such an aggressive timeline to close – once and for all – the largest domestic ivory market in the world is globally significant. It’s a game changer and could be the pivotal turning point that brings elephants back from the brink of extinction. Now, other countries, including the UK, must follow China’s lead and close their ivory markets.”

Demand for elephant ivory has skyrocketed in recent years, leading to the poaching of approximately 35,000 elephants per year for their tusks. African savanna elephants have declined by 30 percent in the past seven years and if current poaching rates continue African forest elephants could be extinct in less than a decade.

The international commercial trade in ivory has been banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 1989. China has maintained a legal ivory market under which the government supplies registered ivory carvers with raw ivory from government stockpiles. However, as in the U.S., United Kingdom, and elsewhere, this legal ivory market has led to a parallel illegal market as it is extremely difficult to determine ivory age.  

Over the past two years, the Chinese government has taken major steps to end its domestic ivory market. First, in February 2015, China placed a one-year ban on imports of all carved ivory items. A month later, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised to end China’s domestic ivory market — a commitment he reinforced in September 2015 when meeting with President Obama. In October 2015, China placed a one-year ban on imports of African elephant trophies. In March 2016, China extended its one year ban on imports of carved ivory items and elephant hunting trophies to December 31, 2019. Finally, at the June 2016 U.S.-China Strategic and Economic (S&ED), China promised to deliver a timeline for its ivory ban by the end of 2016, spurring today’s announcement.

According to the announcement, China will stop commercially processing and selling ivory and ivory products by March 31, 2017. It will then phase out registered legal processors and traders, shutting down its legal commercial ivory trade completely by December 31, 2017. After the market closes, the Chinese Ministry of Culture will help transition ivory carvers and other ivory sector employees to other livelihoods. The Chinese government will also strengthen the management of legally-possessed ivory products and ramp up enforcement and education to combat the illegal ivory trade.

Elly Pepper's blog on the announcement can be found at


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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