CITES committee deploys trade bans, eyes September meet

20 January 2016

An international committee charged with helping to regulate wildlife trade agreed last week during a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland to impose trade suspensions on a number of countries as a result of non-compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Nigeria, Angola, and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) will each be the target of commercial trade bans in CITES-listed species until the submission of individual progress reports on National Ivory Action Plans (NIAPs) geared towards helping to tackle the escalating levels of illegal ivory trade and elephant poaching in recent years.

Guinea Bissau, Venezuela, and Liberia face trade suspensions in CITES-listed species for failing to put in place national measures needed to effectively implement the range of obligations required under the Convention. Furthermore, according to a document prepared by the CITES secretariat for last week’s meeting, a total of 88 parties and 13 dependent territories need to work towards bringing relevant legislation up to scratch with a particular focus on addressing illegal wildlife trade.

Due to concerns around illegal logging and exports, the standing committee also recommended that parties suspend trade in certain types of rosewood, palisanders, and ebony – all high-value woods ­– from Madagascar. The island-nation could face further suspensions if no evidence of efforts to tackle the issue is provided by July.  

Similarly, trade in African grey parrots with the Democratic Republic of Congo was suspended due to a flouting of approved export quotas, alongside a lack of scientific data on the bird’s population status in the country. Further trade bans were imposed Lao PDR in monkeys and pythons, with Benin, Cameroon, and Ghana for chameleons, with the Solomon Islands on giant clams, with Guinea and Senegal in seahorses, and with Fiji for corals, according to a CITES secretariat press release.  

Another 14 CITES parties could be subject to wildlife trade sanctions failing the submission of national annual reports within the next 60 days.

According to experts, the meeting demonstrated parties’ willingness to make full use of the Convention’s available compliance measures in order to encourage legal, sustainable, and traceable wildlife trade.

In force since 1975, CITES regulates trade in more than 35,000 species of wild animals and plants, affording various levels of protection according to conservation status through listings on a series of annexes. While some species may be deemed too endangered to trade under any circumstance, others – including parts and derivatives – can be traded within certain limits, accompanied by permits and other documentation.

Last week’s 19-member standing committee meeting, attended by nearly 500 participants from a cross-section of governments, civil society, and academia, also addressed a long list of wildlife trade agenda items ranging from sustainable livelihoods, captive breeding, the implementation of new shark listings, traceability, regulatory measures, better science, and other species-specific issues.

The body agreed to send a number of draft decisions for consideration at the Seventeenth Conference of the Parties to CITES (COP17) due to be held at the end of September in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Elephant protection

As the plight of wild elephant populations continues to make headlines, with some studies suggesting that around 100,000 African elephants killed for their ivory between 2010-2012, many stakeholders have pushed for increased intergovernmental and agency cooperation to tackle the problem.

Estimating elephant population numbers is complex, however, due partly to their wide-ranging territories. A key aspect of the international response to poaching includes gathering accurate data. To this end the standing committee last week urged all parties to report comprehensive and accurate figures to the Monitoring Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) and Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) programmes.

The body also agreed to send a draft decision to COP17 on elephant conservation, killing, and illegal ivory trade calling for additional meetings between parties implementing NIAPs; the identification of opportunities for cross-border collaboration and resource mobilisation, and; discussion on shared challenges and technical assistance needs. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicated last week too that it will publish new data on African elephant population status’ in time for the Johannesburg meet.

The CITES secretariat has also been asked to identify and make recommendations on countries of various levels of concern for elephant poaching, ivory trafficking transit, and demand. The COP might then consider tasking some of these nations to take further measures under the NIAP process.

“The NIAPs represent one of the most successful initiatives in CITES to address complex challenges,” Øystein Størkersen, chair of the standing committee, told the meeting last week. “It is designed to protect one iconic species but it should also inspire the conservation of all CITES-listed species by exposing and responding to the weaknesses in domestic legislation and enforcement and engaging with concerned parties to remedy the situation.” 

However, a long-standing debate over a “decision-making mechanism for authorising ivory trade” continued at last week’s meeting without resolution, despite pressure from Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe for further reflection, given that elephants in these countries do not feature on CITES’ most-threatened list.

COP17 will now decide whether to continue this work or not, which has faced opposition from some civil society groups and parties, who argue that any legal ivory trade might send the wrong market signals to poachers. (See BioRes, 26 August 2014)

The standing committee also discussed how to tackle the disposal of ivory stockpiles, an increasingly salient topic as a number of governments have held crushings or burnings within the last year, in a symbolic effort to devalue ivory goods.

However, parties reportedly diverged on whether these activities should target both seized goods and stockpiles obtained by one-off ivory sales permitted by CITES over the years, with some countries arguing that overall these activities could cause black market prices to spike by limiting availability.

Conservation and commerce

How to ensure continued conservation of wild plant and animal species in the context of international supply chains emerged as a theme across a number of last week’s discussions, according to some observers.

A secretariat report on the rise of captive-breeding and trade in CITES-listed species noted that parties have not yet found ways to respond and raised questions around whether this benefits the conservation of wild species.

Some experts fear trade in captive bred species may provide a cover for laundering illegally-harvest wild animals into global markets. Captive breeding has also prompted some reflection on competition and market access, as increased availability on home markets may limit import demand, and accompanying sustainable use efforts.

In response to these concerns, the standing committee agreed to forward a draft decision calling for a secretariat review of CITES rules governing international trade in captive bred species for consideration at COP17.  

Parties also spent some time last week examining reports on the implementation of five shark specie and all manta ray listings on CITES Appendix II that came into effect in September 2014.

In order to help facilitate continued implementation, COP17 delegates will consider a series of recommendations including knowledge sharing of the techniques for DNA testing of shark species for cost-effective identification; recognise particular identification issues related to manta rays; and endeavour to identify hammerhead sharks specifically in fisheries and landings data.

A key challenge with this marine listing involves traceability across the fish food supply chain to determine what has been legally sold versus the black market, but it is also a problematic issue with other species such as snakes, sturgeon and caviar trade, as well as wood products.

However, recent developments in technology, software, and devices may provide new opportunities to improve traceability solutions and help to separate legal from illegal commerce, according to a report published by wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC.

On this front, the standing committee last week endorsed a draft decision to be taken up at COP17 that would establish a CITES working group on traceability systems, with a focus on definitions and implementation of appropriate measures as well as developing a portal on traceability for the CITES secretariat website.

Next steps

“Expect a full, action-packed agenda in Johannesburg,” John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General told BioRes after the standing committee meeting, adding that a spirit of camaraderie had been evident in the sessions, auguring well for future international cooperation on wildlife trade.  

Parties will submit proposals by the end of April for consideration at COP17 on new species listings, resolutions, decisions, and other agenda items. Bids by some countries to up-list the African lion, pangolins, polar bears, and additional shark species are expected, among others, according observers. (See BioRes, 17 September 2015)

Several relevant high-level events are also planned before COP17, including a UN World Wildlife Day on 3 March with a special focus on the future of elephant populations, and World Environment Day on 6 June dedicated to illegal wildlife trade.

ICTSD reporting; “Summary of the sixty-sixth meeting of the standing committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora: 11-15 January 2016,” 18 January 2016, IISD REPORTING SERVICE. 

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