U.S. says regional trade pacts to curb poaching in Africa

A herd of a elephants gather at a water hole in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park, August 1, 2015. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (Reuters)

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Measures to counter the trafficking of wildlife in a proposed Pacific trade pact should help to discourage animal poaching in Africa, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday. Speaking at a conference in Gabon on a U.S.-Africa trade pact, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership would include measures to curb demand from Asia for trafficked wildlife from Africa. Froman also said he was sure that a deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership - a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's diplomatic pivot towards Asia - would be concluded soon, though a number of issues remained unresolved, including the opening of dairy markets. "The Trans-Pacific Partnership will help combat illegal wildlife trafficking, including the illegal trade of ivory from Africa," he told the opening session of the two-day conference. In the context of efforts to improve trade ties under the African Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), renewed for 10 years in June, Washington will also support African nations' efforts to improve customs services and tackle corruption, which could help reduce the supply of poached animals to international markets, U.S. officials said. AGOA allows tariff-free access for some 6,000 goods from 39 African nations to U.S. markets. Gabon, a small, oil-exporting nation in central Africa, has chalked up notable successes in conservation, creating a number of national parks. Following heavy poaching of forest elephants elsewhere in the region, Gabon is home to 70 percent of the world's remaining population. The U.S. government announced a ban on the ivory trade in the United States last year. Froman said a presidential taskforce set up in 2013 to tackle the illegal trade in wildlife was also working on tackling supplies of ivory, including training and support for park rangers in central Africa to fight poaching and trafficking. "On the supply side, there is a lot of work to be done whether it's on anti-poaching or conservation," Froman said. "Gabon has done very good work in that area, and this gives us a chance to highlight that." Experts estimate Africa's elephant population has fallen by more than 60 percent over the past decade. More than 30,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa, many of them to meet demand for ivory from Asian nations. Michael Fay, an adviser on conservation to Gabon's government, said that forest elephant populations had been hunted almost to extinction in neighboring Central African Republic, Chad and Cameroon. "Gabon is almost like a beacon in the middle of all those countries that have lost hundreds of thousands of elephants over the last 25 years," Fay told Reuters during a visit with Froman to the Wonga Wongue Presidential Reserve, where elephant numbers are rising. (Reporting by Wilfried-Gerauds Obangome; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Gareth Jones)