Conservationists have welcomed a move by China to Phase out all ivory processing and trade by the end of 2017.

The move is a potentially significant step to putting an end to mass poaching and threat of extinction of African elephants.

The plan, announced by China’s State Council, commits China to a timetable to end the trade, after a joint pledge in 2015 between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to end the legal and illegal trade of ivory in their countries.

The plan also involves stringent regulation of legal ivory collection, strengthening enforcement and education and “vigorously” pushing for a transformation of the ivory carving industry, including helping encourage ivory carving masters to find work with museums or in preservation efforts.

 

The council said it aimed to “strengthen the protection of elephants and crack down on the illegal ivory trade.”

The Chinese government will also not allow ivory products to be displayed in real or online markets only non-commercial sites, such as museums, will be allowed to display ivory.

 China is the world’s largest ivory market, with an estimated 70 percent of all ivory trade taking place within its borders where it can fetch as much as $2,400 per pound. Last year, China agreed for the first time to start phasing out the domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products. Now, it seems to be making good on that promise.

 

Even as conservationists celebrated the move though, others were quick to point to numerous obstacles that could dampen the effectiveness of the measure. First, neighboring countries have to take action as well.

 

Hong Kong has said it will not ban domestic ivory trade until 2021, meaning that China’s demand could just be transferred there. Also, if the all-out ban is not accompanied by stringent enforcement it will simply increase the price of Ivory.