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As part of plans sketched out on September 21 in the run-up to this week’s CITES summit in South Africa, the UK government will push for definitive proof of age whenever pre-1947 ivory works of art are sold.

A spokesperson for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told ATG: “We will be gathering views from experts from across the environmental sector and antiques industry to make sure the rules around the ban are clear and effective.

“We want to work with traders to strengthen documentary proof and ensure greater confidence that antique items are genuine.”

Members of the conservation community say current rules – that allow pre-1947 ivory to be traded with few checks – are used as cover for illegal trade. A coalition of conservation groups welcomed the announcement of tougher laws but said the proposals were inadequate as they fell short of a near-total ban.

What proof of age will mean in practice remains to be seen. It is not clear, for example, if scientific evidence or a paper trail will be required or if expert testimony will be sufficient.

Ideas currently mooted include the creation of a ‘passport’ system for antique ivory or the building of a database for antique ivory objects.

Increased Bureaucracy

“It will be interesting to see what the detail is but one can expect increased bureaucracy as a minimum effect,” specialist CITES lawyer Andrew Banks of Stone King told ATG. “This is not a total ban but I suspect it will amount to making ivory sales as difficult as possible.”

France is the latest country to introduce procedures making trade in antique ivory more bureaucratic.

The UK consultation process is expected to begin early next year with discussions led by the British Art Market Federation. BAMF chairman Anthony Browne said: “We are committed to working with Defra officials to ensure the art and antiques market is kept completely separate from the illegal market for ivory.”

Marco Forgione, chief executive of the British Antiques Dealers’ Association, said the process was an opportunity for the trade – both dealers and auctioneers – to come together with Defra on “a long-term programme to protect the trade and circulation of historic art objects whilst at the same time ensuring all illegal and modern ivory is removed from circulation.”

The industry was previously buoyed by a study by Traffic that inspected over 3200 pieces of ivory on sale at shops and markets in London and found only one item considered post-1947.

The report, published by the NGO in August, concluded that “links [between the antiques trade and] the current elephant poaching crisis appear tenuous at best”.

‘A symbol of destruction’

The announcement from Andrea Leadsom – that included an end to any exemptions that allow for trade in worked specimens from after March 1947 – came as the Duke of Cambridge, patron of wildlife charity Tusk, gave a much-publicised speech in London.

He said: “We have the chance to say that ivory is a symbol of destruction, not of luxury and not something that anyone needs to buy or sell.”