CITES Conference To Expand Global Wildlife Trade

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The 183 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will adopt decisions and resolutions to expand and further strengthen the global wildlife trade regime at CITES’ triennial World Wildlife Conference at Palexpo in Geneva from 17 to 28 August.

Governments have submitted 56 new proposals to change the levels of protection that CITES provides for species of wild animals and plants that are in international trade. Many of these proposals seek to ensure that trade in at-risk species remains sustainable by requiring trade permits through a CITES Appendix II listing.  Others recommend banning all commercial trade in specimens of species threatened by extinction by listing them on Appendix I. Still others aim to provide evidence that a population has stabilized or expanded and can be safely transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II.

“CITES sets the rules for international trade in wild fauna and flora. It is a powerful tool for ensuring sustainability and responding to the rapid loss of biodiversity – often called the sixth extinction crisis – by preventing and reversing declines in wildlife populations. This year’s conference will focus on strengthening existing rules and standards while extending the benefits of the CITES regime to additional plants and animals threatened by human activity,” said CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.

“Clear and enforceable rules based on sound science and effective policies are vital for protecting natural wealth and achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals that have been adopted by the world’s governments. Because it is science-based, implementation-oriented and pragmatic, CITES plays an essential role in advancing international efforts to conserve and sustainably use our natural capital,” she said.

Last May, the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services confirmed that species and ecosystems around the world are in rapid decline. One of the main direct drivers of species decline is the direct overexploitation of living organisms (including unsustainable or illegal hunting, fishing and logging).

The new wildlife trade rules to be considered at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of CITES (CoP18), cover an array of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, trees and other plants. Twenty listing proposals are inspired by concern over the growing appetite of the exotic pet trade for charismatic amphibians and reptiles. The trend towards applying CITES rules to trade in high-value fish and tree species continues, as do the debates over how best to manage the African elephant populations and what to do with the ivory produced by these animals. Illegal killing of rhinos and the related trade in rhino horn is also high on the agenda. Delegates will also decide whether musical instruments made of precious wood from trees regulated by the Convention should be exempted from CITES controls.

Strengthening the regulatory regime for wildlife trade

In addition to the 56 proposals for amending the CITES Appendices, the CoP18 agenda also seeks to adopt a strategy for the coming years and improve the effectiveness of the Convention through agreements on the interpretation and implementation of its provisions. The CITES Strategic Vision Post-2020 document, for example, will be presented for discussion and adoption. The draft vision foresees that “By 2030, all international trade in wild fauna and flora is legal and sustainable, consistent with the long-term conservation of species, and thereby contributing to halting biodiversity loss.” It also highlights CITES’ role in contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The success of CITES is based in good part on having a solid legal basis and an effective compliance regime. When there is evidence that a Party may not be fully complying with their obligations under the Convention, CITES provides technical assistance and capacity building to bring the country back into compliance. If necessary, CITES can also adopt compliance measures which may include a recommendation to suspend all trade in a listed species or even in all CITES-listed species. Updates on these issues are contained in Doc. 27 and Doc. 28.

Illegal international trade in wildlife threatens the survival of many wild animals and plants while undermining national economies and the livelihoods of people who rely on the sustainable use of wildlife. The growing involvement of organized crime groups is increasing the complexity of enforcement investigations and the risks faced by enforcement officers such as park rangers.

Among other issues, the conference will address wildlife crime linked to the Internet, the use of forensic applications, corruption, a threat assessment report on wildlife crime in West and Central Africa (Doc. 34), and the storage and management of data on illegal trade used to inform decision-making. It will also focus on capacity building and technical support provided to Parties by the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization under the auspices of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).

Some Parties believe that CITES should play a role in managing non-CITES-listed species. CoP18 will discuss documents that describe trade-related concerns for species and taxa currently not included in the CITES Appendices. The proponents of these documents recommend to examine the situation, inter alia, to determine a potential future role for CITES in their management and conservation. These involve [non-CITES listed] rosewoods, songbirds, amphibians, sharks and rays, marine ornamental fish, Bangai cardinal fish, eels and frankincense.

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