China has come under fire for allowing tigers to be bred for the production of so-called "tiger bone wine".
A recent poll declared the tiger the world's most popular animal
The drink is reportedly made by steeping tiger carcasses in rice wine. Those who drink the wine believe it makes them strong.
Chinese delegates at the International Tiger Symposium in Nepal are arguing for the lifting of a current ban on the trade in tiger bones and skins.
But other Asian nations with threatened tiger populations want the ban to stay.
There has been a forceful exchange of views on the issue at the symposium, according to the BBC correspondent in Kathmandu, Charles Haviland.
Experts say there are several reasons why tiger numbers have drastically declined, but just one has grabbed the limelight, our correspondent says.
The argument centres on the existence of so-called "tiger farms" in China, which have bred thousands of captive tigers with the ostensible purpose of entertaining visitors.
But the conservation group WWF, which is chairing the symposium, says these farms are fronts for the production of tiger bone wine.
WWF also says the captive tigers cannot survive in the wild, and believes the production of wine and underhand trade in skin and bones also threaten to make wild tiger poaching more lucrative.
A senior WWF official said the discussions were heated, with Chinese academics saying their country should lift its ban on the trade in tiger parts.
But experts from states like Nepal and Bangladesh, which have threatened tiger populations, are urging that the ban should remain.
On Wednesday, a more formal forum of government delegations will begin discussing the fate of the majestic beast, which a recent television poll declared to be the world's most popular animal.