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New procedures, only now being understood by the French trade, demand that all ivory objects regardless of date must receive prior approval before they are sold.

French environment minister Ségolène Royal passed an executive order controlling the sale of all species of elephant ivory and rhino horn in August. While the new rules appeared to impact only those items worked within the past 40 years, their effect could be more far reaching.

“The total ban covers only objects worked from July 1 1975,” says Brigitte Vergilino, a Parisian fiscal lawyer who is advising the SNA on the issue. “However, this does not mean trade in objects worked prior to this date is free.”

As before, a derogation exists for antiques (defined here as objects worked prior to 1947) but these exceptions are “now subject to cumbersome formalities and permits will only be granted on specific request.”

Case-by-case basis

Vergilino says the waiver requests must be made on a case-by-case basis to a prefet de police (police commissioner) several months before any transaction takes place.

In the event that the applicant does not hear back from the prefect within four months, it can be assumed the exception has not been granted.

It remains to be seen how this will work in practice, but such a timescale would be enormously problematic in the sale of all but the most important works or art.

This layer of red tape comes

in addition to any paperwork demanded by either local CITES management authorities or customs officials.

Vergilino says the issuing of import and export permits for ivory objects coming to and from France promises to be particularly challenging as the derogation must have been granted by the police commissioner before items are shipped.

The new rules will not have the effect of controlling the market for post-convention ivory in France, Vergilino believes. “This is not just a problem for the art market. It will have the opposite effect to what is desired as it will push the previously official ivory market underground.”

In May, when Royal first announced her intention to push for “a ban on any kind of ivory trade in France”, five art market trade associations wrote an open letter to the ministry of culture saying that the proposals “would have a dramatic negative effect on the French art market”.