🔒 Wildlife trade: SA is responsible for bush meat landing on Chinese tables – experts

The Covid-19 virus, linked to a wildlife market in Wuhan, has spread rapidly through the world and has thrust China’s live wild animal trade into the spotlight. Images of sick, suffering pangolins and videos of wildlife such as bats boiling in soup have outraged the world. Two experts on China, Professor Sergey Radchenko from Cardiff University and former South African Ambassador Gert Grobler, told a Biznews Midweek Catchup webinar that they believe poor regulations in Africa are contributing to the wildlife trade. – Linda van Tilburg

Wildlife trade at the centre of Covid-19 pandemic

A report released in May this year at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed how wild animals including lions, wild dogs, wolves and chimpanzees are exported from South Africa to China for profit.  Two non-governmental organisations, EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trade, have come up with a figure that suggests more than 5,000 live wild animals were legally exported from  South Africa to China between 2015 and 2019.  This survey was based on a forensic investigation into hundreds of export permits.  They concluded that South Africa’s international live wildlife trade is ‘large, poorly enforced, indefensible and shameful’.  They called for a prohibition on the live trade of wild animals, including captive breeding and farming of wildlife for trade. 
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A professor in international relations from Cardiff University, Professor Sergey Radchenko and former South Africa Ambassador Gert Grobler, said they believed that poor regulations in African countries are contributing to African animals landing in China’s markets. Radchenko said China is also not reigning in its companies that are operating in Africa. 

What we have here is China’s state controlled companies – this question goes to the question of corporate social responsibility of Chinese companies working in Africa. And, of course, the reality is that Beijing has so far shown very little interest in assuring strict observance of good practices in this regard. Something we have to keep in mind is that in many instances, the local governments, the African countries themselves that are allowing these things to go on and to happen. You could argue that they don’t have a choice, but in reality, it’s the weakness of the local legislation, the local norms sometimes that allows for these things to happen.

Africa must dictate to China how things work in Africa

Grobler said Africa should take responsibility to dictate to China under which conditions they would be allowed to operate in their countries.

There are a lot of allegations in this regard. I am saying that given the extent of China investment and China’s trade involvement in Africa, there are probably 10- to 11,000 Chinese companies on the continent right now. McKinsey brought out a report on that recently. I think this exploitation, whether it’s wood, whether it’s animals and so on, that is something that is not condoned by the Chinese government. These are individual companies and it happens with South African companies involved in Africa. It happens with French companies in Africa. It happens all over. That does not mean that this situation should not be addressed.

Also read: China economy bounces back from Covid-19 – Wall Street Journal

I think the responsibility is increasingly on Africa, on the African Union, on individual countries in Africa to say to the Chinese, these are the conditions under which we want you to operate and work in our countries. If you don’t adhere to that, we kick you out. In fact, this happened in one or two countries recently, whether it’s with labour relations or whether it’s with the environment. The responsibility increasingly is on Africa. Africa has got to get its act together in its interaction with all its international partners, not only China. It happens all over.

“I think the responsibility is increasingly on Africa, on the African Union, on individual countries in Africa to say to the Chinese, these are the conditions under which we want you to operate and work in our countries. If you don’t adhere to that, we kick you out.”

I think from a South African point of view, South Africa has a huge footprint on the African continent and I must say, by and large that the interactions that have been taking place in the private sector and taking place in economic cooperation has been, by and large, constructive. I don’t see South African companies really partaking in exploitation and environmental devastation and so on. But China is a huge country, there’s 1.4 billion people. There are more than 10 to 11,000 companies on the African continent and surely, you’re going to have people that are embarking on unacceptable practices.

“It’s in many countries. We export birds and we export wild animals to many countries in Europe. So it’s not only China. China is always singled out as being this big transgressor.”

The other issue that gets a lot of attention, is the trade in wildlife, in bushmeat and so on. Now, China has after Covid-19 taken a number of steps to stop it. I must also say that bushmeat and trade in wild animals; it’s not only China. It is the whole of Asia. It’s in many countries. We export birds and we export wild animals to many countries in Europe. So it’s not only China. China is always singled out as being this big transgressor.

It is very encouraging that the Chinese government, after the recent outbreak, have introduced a number of really stringent steps to stop this. I think if there is a country that can stop this it’s China, given the system in the country.  It’s well organised and it’s a centralised government and they will take the necessary steps.

“There have been allegations of Chinese companies essentially resorted to terrible methods, very environmentally unfriendly methods.”

I very much agree with what Ambassador Grobler was saying. We also have to remember that this is not a problem that is specific to Africa. And I’ll give you one example. There is a growing concern about, for example, destruction of forests in Siberia; it has been exported to China. There have been allegations of Chinese companies essentially resorting to terrible methods, very environmentally unfriendly methods.

What enables this is local corruption and the lack of institutional constraints that would somehow prevent this kind of exploitation from taking place. Now, if you compare that situation, for example, to Europe, you have Chinese companies that are entering Europe at great speed and sometimes even in a crucial area like the nuclear industry, etc. I mean, this is controversial in itself. As you know, now, for example, in the UK, we have a big debate about whether or not to allow Chinese mobile phone technology or not in the UK.

 So at the same time, even as the Chinese companies are trying to enter Western European market, there is actually an institutional framework in place to limit any sort of damage. In other words, they have to play by the local rules. The tragedy is that many developing countries and here I would put Russia and Africa on one plane really, do not have the kind of institutional constraints or framework that would dissuade or that would prevent these companies from exploitation or from environmental degradation. That is a serious concern. Obviously, it applies to Africa and many other countries as well.

  • This week’s Midweek Catch-up webinar: Join Linda van Tilburg to discuss how President Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC will be judged on their performance in the Covid-19 pandemic in future elections. Scenario planner and CEO of the SA Institute for Race Relations Dr Frans Cronjé, author of newly published ‘The Rise or Fall of South Africa’, and independent political analyst Dr Ralph Matshekgo – author of ‘When Zuma Goes’ and ‘Ramaphosa’s Turn’ – will be on hand to answer your questions.

Also read: China Covid-19 questions: Australia reveals hefty price for taking it to task – SLR

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