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JUNE 17, 2007
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Rupee Rise
Though an appreciating rupee is a cause for concern for many industries, it is proving to be a boon for some, particularly those that have large foreign currency borrowings. A weaker dollar is making repayments cheaper. Also, state-run refineries and those in the aviation sector are well-positioned to benefit from the stronger rupee. The Indian currency is up 8 per cent this year and is Asia's strongest currency against the dollar in 2007.

The ECB Route
The cap on maximum external commercial borrowings (ECBs), an annual ritual for the government, is fast losing its significance. Since the bulk of the foreign borrowings is raised under the automatic route by companies, it is becoming difficult to enforce the cap. The government had raised the annual limit of ECBs last year from $18 billion (Rs 81,000 crore) to $22 billion (Rs 99,000 crore). Now, it seems that total inflows will cross the $22-billion mark.
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Business Today,  June 3, 2007

Bone of Contention
China is lobbying hard to reopen the trade in tiger parts amidst opposition from wildlife conservationists. The stakes this time are very high and could impact the very survival of tigers in their natural habitat.


It is the hardest bit of evidence yet in favour of what conservationists have long argued, but may not be enough to save wild tigers. Even as an interim census released on May 23, 2007, revealed a sharp decline in the population of tigers in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, China is lobbying hard to get the international ban on trade in tiger parts lifted.

Will the census indicators galvanise India's opposition to China's proposal? There's reason for optimism. "These numbers show that the tiger is under serious threat from poaching as well as from loss of habitat over the last couple of decades. The ban on tiger trade should not be lifted as it will encourage poaching," says Rajesh Gopal, Member Secretary, National Tiger Conservation Authority, and Head, Project Tiger.

The contentious issue is being thrashed out at the triennial conference of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (cites) at The Hague from June 3-15, 2007. cites is an international agreement that controls the trade in wildlife.

It is shaping up as a China versus the rest battle. China is pressing for a lifting of the ban on trading in tiger parts and the rest of the world is sitting up and opposing this. And understandably, wildlife conservationists are crying foul over attempts at turning tigers into poultry chicken.

Tiger bone wine is openly available for sale in China (bottom); a brochure advertising tiger bone wine

"Lifting the ban will drive up demand, create new markets and also provide room for traders to mix up illegally killed wild tigers with 'legitimate' farmed tigers. It's a bad idea all around," points out Ullas Karanth, renowned tiger biologist and Director, Wildlife Conservation Society, India.

China has often been criticised for lax implementation of the 14-year-old ban. As proof, experts point to the rampant proliferation of tiger and leopard products in China and Tibet. Many tiger wine factories openly operate in China and thousands of bottles of wine, often priced as high as $135 (Rs 5,535) each, are sold annually. Sue Lieberman, Director, WWF Global Species Programme, World Wildlife Fund, says tigers are being bred like "chicken on a farm".

Despite the ban, the scenario remains bleak in India. Poachers have cleaned out the tiger population at the Sariska Tiger Reserve in Alwar, Rajasthan. According to the interim census, there are only 265 tigers in Madhya Pradesh and 95 in Maharashtra compared to 710 and 238, respectively, in 2002.

This is despite an action plan already in place for tiger reserves. "The states with tiger reserves need to urgently focus on better protection and management of their reserves as laid down by the National Tiger Conservation Authority. A six-point action plan has already been sent last December but the states are yet to get their act together," laments an MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) official.

China is offering a three-pronged argument to buttress its case.

» Banning trade hasn't worked to save India's wild tiger population
India's conservation methods haven't been successful
» Farming/harvesting is the only way out for the survival of the species

China is leaving no stone unturned to have the ban lifted; this will facilitate its traditional medicine industry. A Chinese delegation of State Forestry Administration (SFA) officials visited India thrice in last one year to discuss the modalities of lifting the ban on trade in tiger products.

According to Ministry of Environment and Forests officials, Chinese officials questioned India's conservation methods at the meeting and emphasised that since banning the tiger trade hasn't worked, farming and harvesting the big cat could offer for an alternative model for ensuring the survival of the species.

India is not yet buying China's arguments over the issue. "We feel that the ban on trade in body parts of wild animals is an effective way of saving the species," says an official spokesperson for MOEF.

Here's a look at the facts and fallacies.


Legalising domestic tiger trade is the sovereign right of any nation. CITES* resolution asks member countries to prohibit trade in tiger parts and derivatives even from captive-bred specimen.
The ban on tiger trade has not worked; so it is time to try a new approach. The ban on trade in tiger products has helped Russia's tiger population to recover and other wild tiger populations, including India's, to persist.
Tiger farming will meet the demand for tiger products at affordable prices. Raising a farmed tiger to maturity is 250 times as expensive as poaching a wild tiger in India.
Legal trade in farmed tiger products will decrease demand for parts of wild tigers. Legalising the trade will create demand from existing consumers and new consumers, thus, becoming a vicious cycle.
Source: CATT: Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking & International Tiger Coalition
*CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora)

The Chinese government is building a case for lifting the ban under immense pressure from its tiger farming lobby, and India's endorsement is vital as the country is home to more than 50 per cent of the world's wild tigers.

Tiger bone plaster, a traditional Chinese medicine, is gaining popularity in Malaysia

The stakes are equally high for India. "From the looks of it, if China reopens tiger trade, inserting the parts of poached tigers from India into the market will be dead easy," says Judy Mills, Director, Campaign Against Tiger Trafficking (CATT) Save The Tiger Fund and member of the International Tiger Coalition.

China has raised the issue time and again. During the fourth General Assembly of the Global Tiger Forum held in Kathmandu last month, Chinese officials wrote to cites, stating that the ban on trade in tiger parts had cost their economy $4 billion (Rs 16,400 crore). Captive-bred tigers in Chinese farms, they claimed, could sustain the trade and also replenish the wild stock.

Incidents of illegal tiger trade reported in the Chinese media.

1997: CCTV reporter Junyi Shui exposed the fact that Shenzhen Wildlife Park was illegally selling tiger bone wine from its cellar to tourists and restaurants outside the park.

December 2002: China imported 100 tigers from Thailand to stock a new wildlife park in Sanya, Hainan province, so that consumers could "taste tiger meat".

2003: Yunnan Liang He Medicine Co. made tiger bone wine from confiscated 'Bengal' tiger bone with permission from government authorities-with a medicine retail permit for good measure.

October 2005: China's Forestry Administration denies western media reports about a possible lifting of the tiger trade ban in China.

February 2006: Shanghai Wildlife Park, in collaboration with a liquor factory, was found to be producing and selling a health-tonic wine. It was made from bones of tigers killed by buses carrying tourists through the park.

August 2006: A report in the China Youth Daily exposed the fact that Xiong Sen Bear and Tiger Farm in Guangxi Province was openly and illegally making tiger bone wine in its cellar. The cellar had over 400 vats of wine, each of which also contained a tiger carcass.

September 2006: Magazine Beijing Technology mentions that the farm's restaurant lists tiger meat on its menu under the name "Meat of the King".
Source: International Fund for Animal Welfare

However, conservationists all over the world challenge such claims. The primary argument: "Commerce and conservation can never be bedfellows," says renowned conservationist Mike H. Pandey.

Captive-bred tigers, experts point out, cannot survive in the wild as they cannot hunt or find mates and often turn man-eaters. Also, tigers are poised at the top of the food chain and, therefore, measure the health of entire ecosystems. Saving tigers will save entire landscapes of life as well as human livelihoods.

Besides, farming can work with species that are low-maintenance and prolific breeders, like crocodile. "It will always be much more lucrative to poach a wild tiger for less than $50 (Rs 2,050) than spend $5,000 (Rs 2,05,000) to rear one. A legal market will spell doom for the few remaining tigers in the wild," says P.K. Sen, noted tiger conservationist and former Head of Project Tiger.

China is under pressure from many countries to maintain the ban. On May 3, 2007, the US government administration assured the Congress that it would actively work to keep China's 14-year-old ban in place at the cites meeting.

Conservationists consider this support crucial. "It is critical that the US and other important partners of China speak up for tigers at the cites conference," says Mills.

As representatives from 169 member countries converge at The Hague, the big question is: will conservation succumb to commerce? "It's a make or break situation," says Belinda Wright, Director, Wildlife Protection Society of India. "If we lose this fight, we've lost the battle." The fate of the tiger hangs in balance.