Beijing, Dec 31 (IANS) China will ban the processing and sale of ivory for commercial purposes by the end of 2017, closing down the world's biggest ivory market, officials reported on Saturday.
The State Council and the State Forestry Administration announced late Friday a decision hailed by conservation groups as "historic" for the future preservation of elephants, Efe news reported.
By the end of March, authorities will shut down some of the 34 ivory processing enterprises and 143 sale outlets operating legally in the country, while all commercial activity will be banned by December 31, 2017.
Under the ban, the government will not allow shops or online stores to offer products containing ivory and only non-commercial spaces, including museums, will have permission to exhibit such products.
China has been toughening regulations on ivory trading in recent years.
In a joint appearance with his US counterpart Barack Obama in 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping said both countries would end the legal and illegal trade of ivory in their respective countries.
Trade in ivory has been suspended in China since March this year, when the government imposed a three-year moratorium following a one-year ban on ivory imports in 2015.
The decision has been welcomed by many conservation groups, who for years have been drawing attention to the effect of China's consumption of ivory on the declining population of elephants in Africa.
"Closing the world's largest legal ivory market will deter people in China and beyond from buying ivory and make it harder for ivory traffickers to sell their illegal stocks," said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF-China.
Beijing's decision comes after the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in October urged all countries where the ivory trade was legal to "urgently" close their markets.