Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO
Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa. Picture: ARNOLD PRONTO

WATER and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa this week signed two memorandums of understanding with the Chinese government, she said on Wednesday evening.

A Chinese delegation travelled to South Africa for the Brics summit in Durban, where a number of agreements between the Brics nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — were concluded.

The two memorandums of understanding dealt with oceans and coastal management, and ecosystems and biodiversity protection, Ms Molewa told Business Day in an interview.

The memorandum of understanding dealing with biodiversity was similar to that signed with Vietnam last December, and encompassed a "list of actions that need to be taken" on the illegal trade in rhino horn, she said.

These included joint security and cross-border actions, capacity building, greater harmonisation of legislation, education and awareness of the negative effects of the black-market trade in rhino horn, and training for government officials.

South Africa is home to more than 90% of the global rhino population, and scientists have warned that if poaching increases at the same rate as it did between 2009 and 2011, when the tally jumped from 122 to 448, just more than a threefold increase, the species will be extinct by mid-century. It could go into decline by 2016.

Conservationists see Vietnam as key to curbing the poaching that feeds the illegal horn trade. The country, a known destination for much of the illegal rhino horn poached in South Africa, posted the highest wildlife crime score in the World Wide Fund for Nature’s 2012 Wildlife Crime Scorecard report.

Do Quang Tung, the acting head of Vietnam’s wildlife trade authority, reportedly told the Mail & Guardian newspaper that allegations that Vietnam was the primary destination and consumer country for rhino horn were "bullshit". Instead he pointed to China, saying it was responsible for "99% of the horn that goes through Vietnam".

However, research by wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic shows that while a decade ago rhino horn was "noticeably absent" from Vietnamese markets, that country is now the largest market for horns, with the young and newly affluent the biggest consumers.

Rhino horn, prized in Vietnam as a "pick-me-up", a cancer cure and even an aphrodisiac, fetches about $60,000/kg in the Southeast Asian country.

Ms Molewa said the biodiversity memorandum of understanding also covered wetlands, with South Africa keen to benefit from China’s wetlands management expertise. "They have mechanisms and technology for that," she said.

It also covered species, from plants such as hoodia and cycads to animals and animal parts that are transported under Convention on Trade in Endangered Species rules.

The oceans and coastal management memorandum of understanding looked at developing the "blue economy" for both nations.

"Ninety-five percent of what’s in the oceans is actually unknown. We can co-operate on that," the minister said.

Ms Molewa also said China was interested in working with South Africa on Antarctic research. South Africa is one of a handful of countries that has an Antarctic base.

© BDlive 2013