A UN panel gave right to China on Tuesday to import African elephant ivory under strict conditions.
The standing committee overseeing the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) made the decision at a meeting in Geneva.
Members of the committee voted by a majority that China qualified for the import because it has dramatically improved its enforcement of ivory rules.
Ivory trade was banned globally in 1989, but controlled trade was approved at a CITES meeting in 2002 and then modified to include new conditions at a meeting in 2007.
At the 2007 meeting, CITES also authorized four southern African countries - Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe -to make a one-off sale of 108 tons of registered ivory stocks.
The CITES meeting this week was charged with deciding whether China could be approved as a trading partner. To gain approval, China had to convince CITES it had put in place adequate measures to manage regulated sales and tackle any illegal domestic ivory trade.
"China was accepted as a trading partner to import ivory from the four authorized countries in southern Africa," said Juan Carlos Vasquez, spokesman of CITES, after Tuesday's vote.
Previously Japan was the only country that have won right from CITES to import ivory from Africa.
China and Japan would now have to bid in a one-off auction of ivory stockpiles from the four southern African countries. The auction was to be held later this year.