London, July 16 : China has been given permission to become a licensed buyer of ivory at a UN (United Nations) meeting in Geneva, provoking widespread condemnation from environmentalists and politicians, who said the move was a grave threat to the future of wild elephants in Africa and Asia.
According to a report in The Independent, the British Government came in for fierce criticism after voting for China at the UN meeting, despite opposition from several African countries.
The vote, at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), gives China the right to buy ivory auctioned by four southern African countries, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Environmentalists claim that the entry of China into the market will provide a substantial opportunity for the laundering of illegal ivory, and provide the impetus for further poaching across Africa, where more than 20,000 elephants are illegally killed every year.
China is the centre of the world's illegal ivory trade, although the government is cracking down on it.
The vote on its approved buyer status was won by nine votes to two, with two abstentions.
Britain voted in favour with Bulgaria, on behalf of the European Union. Australia and New Zealand voted against, and several African countries spoke out passionately against the move, including Kenya, Mali and Ghana.
According to Allan Thornton of the Environmental Investigation Agency, which provided much of the evidence for the original ban in 1989, "This is a sad day for those who love wildlife and who believe that human society has an ethical responsibility to conserve species that are being destroyed by human activities."
But, according to Britain's minister for Wildlife, Joan Ruddock, China had now met the conditions laid down to allow countries to take part in the auction.
The EU has accepted that China had met the criteria. Any other form of ivory sales remains illegal under international law.
"China has satisfied the Cites Standing Committee that it has established robust controls to manage the legally stockpiled ivory to ensure it is not exported from and is effectively monitored within China," said Ruddock.
"This one-off sale is only from elephants that have not died as a result of poaching. China has shown itself willing to crack down on illegal ivory trading and we expect them to continue to do so," she added.