Vietnam and SA are poised to sign an important deal that will see the Asian country help to clamp down on rhino poaching and the illegal trade in rhino horn.
Deputy International Relations and Co-operation Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim and Vietnam’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Le Luong Minh said after a meeting on Friday that both countries were ready to sign a memorandum of understanding.
The deal would encompass bilateral co-operation in criminal investigations, Department of Environmental Affairs spokesman Albi Modise said yesterday.
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It would also cover the sharing of details of legal rhino hunts involving Vietnamese nationals, and public awareness and education in Vietnam on the endangered status of rhinos and that the horn is not a proven medicine.
Vietnam, a known destination for much of illegal rhino horn poached in SA, has posted the highest wildlife crime score in the World Wide Fund for Nature’s 2012 Wildlife Crime Scorecard report released earlier this year.
The ministers gave no date for sign ing the deal. Mr Ebrahim said final agreement had been delayed since the countries had not been meeting regularly despite setting up the 2004 Intergovernmental Partnership Forum for Economic Trade, Scientific, Technical and Cultural Co-operation.
SA is home to 90% of the world’s rhinos, and it is estimated 22,800 are under threat from poachers who sell the horn in Asia for up to $60 000/kg. SA lost 281 rhinos to poaching between January 1 and July 17, and rhino could become extinct by 2050 if they are killed at the current rate.
Mr Minh said the Vietnamese government was concerned about the killing of endangered species, and believed responsibility for wildlife deaths should be shared.
"If there were no species killed, (their products) would not be in the market," he said.
A South African official at the talks in Pretoria said the Vietnamese government was "still auditing" documents after the Department of Environmental Affairs had asked its agriculture and rural development ministry to verify that white rhino horns exported to Vietnam were still in the possession of hunters.
When it failed to confirm this in writing, the department recommended that rhino hunting permits be refused to Vietnamese.