Crackdown on traders in Thailand as Cites looms

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - The Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) is trying to better regulate the ivory trade in Thailand before the high-profile Cites conference kicks off in Bangkok early next month.

The DNP will also work with a Cites team in conducting random checks at ivory shops in Thailand on Thursday as part of a measure to stamp out illegal ivory trading.

DNP chief Theerapat Prayurasiddhi vowed on Tuesday to enforce the law strictly.

The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) has directed Thailand to urgently address the smuggling of ivory from Africa.

Parties to Cites will gather in Thailand from March 3 to 14 for its 16th meeting.

Theerapat said the illegal ivory trade was a sensitive issue.

Nearly 300 entrepreneurs are engaged in the production, processing, and trade of ivory in Thailand. The ivory trade is legal here, as many elephants in the country are domesticated and issued identification papers. Non-government organisations (NGOs), however, have raised concerns about the smuggling of African elephants' ivory into Thailand.

Theerapat said 270 foreigners were arrested in immigration checkpoints in Europe and the United States over the past few years for carrying ivory products they had bought from Thailand. Over three tonnes of ivory was seized from them.

Although Thailand has no plan to ban ivory trade on its soil, Theerapat said the Kingdom would prove to Cites that it had cracked down seriously on the trade of smuggled ivory.

Theerapat said his agency had already held discussions with relevant agencies and more than 10 Bangkok-based entrepreneurs to ensure strict compliance with laws governing the ivory trade. For example, entrepreneurs must identify the origin of ivory used for their products.

"If we find any shop fails to comply with our regulations, we will issue a warning the first time or perhaps the second time. But if the offence is repeated, we will ask the Commerce Ministry to revoke its licence," Theerapat said.

The DNP would hold similar discussions with entrepreneurs in 16 other provinces including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Sawan, Phuket, Surin and Phitsanulok over the next two weeks.

Theerapat said the DNP would also advise that shops avoid selling ivory products to foreign tourists.

Somkuan Maliwan, a representative from an ivory shop, said most ivory-product buyers were foreigners. "So, it will be hard to provide co-operation on this requirement. For others, we are willing to co-operate," she said.

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