Opening speech of Mr John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General at the CITES Asian Snake Trade Workshop

11 April 2011, Guangzhou, China

Executive Director General of the CITES Management Authority of China, Dr. Su Chunyu,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

"I would like to record our great appreciation to the authorities in China for the manner in which they have marked their country’s long involvement in CITES. I also sincerely thank those same authorities for generously agreeing to host this workshop and for finding the time and resources to assist significantly in its logistical arrangements.". Mr John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General.

It is a great pleasure to be here in Guangzhou, China to open this major international workshop. I am also delighted that this event is coinciding with the 30th anniversary of China becoming Party to the Convention on International Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which entered into force in this country on 8 April 1981.

The importance the Chinese Government attaches to CITES was admirably demonstrated by the celebrations that took place in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing at the end of last week. That prestigious building - one of China’s great landmarks - saw an impressive gathering, including Minister Jia Zhibang, State Forestry Administration, together with representatives of 31 Ministries and Departments. The participation of so many different Ministries and Departments, including from the Ministries responsible for Agriculture, Customs, and Foreign Affairs, was a reflection of how well the Chinese CITES Management Authority has worked across government in advancing the implementation of CITES. This level of inter-agency collaboration is also reflected at the provincial level in what we have witnessed here in the Province of Guangdong through the good work of the Guangzhou Branch of the CITES Management Authority. 

You may not be aware that China has 22 CITES Management Authority branch offices spread throughout its huge land mass and two distinct CITES offices in Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions. In total, it must have more CITES administrative staff than any other country. This reflects both the strong commitment of the Chinese Government to CITES and the scale of operations needed for such a large country that is actively engaged in the implementation of CITES. I would like to record our great appreciation to the authorities in China for the manner in which they have marked their country’s long involvement in CITES. I also sincerely thank those same authorities for generously agreeing to host this workshop and for finding the time and resources to assist significantly in its logistical arrangements.

The global trade in snakes is extensive and is of considerable economic importance involving thousands of transactions per year. The trade involves a variety of species from many different countries, with specimens both taken from the wild and bred in captivity.

In Doha last year, the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP15) mandated the organization of this ‘Snake Trade and Conservation management workshop’ through Decision 15.75. In adopting this Decision CITES Parties acknowledged the need to bring relevant officials, experts and organizations together, to address conservation, management, and enforcement matters, so that such trade could be given the attention it deserves – and we are delighted to see representatives from close to 20 States, as well as experts from the CITES Animals Committee, and many international and national organisations here today.

Decision 15.75 also refers to “a particular focus on the markets and commercial trade in East, South, and Southeast Asia”, but I am pleased to see that the workshop has attracted participants from several other parts of the world as well. This reflects the fact that trade in these species extends across the globe. Snakes from the forests and jungles of Asia are consumed locally as well as in neighbouring countries, but they are also found, often converted into expensive luxury leather goods and accessories, in the boutiques of Europe and North America. Their skins are frequently processed in various countries of re-export along the way. That is why, as for so many aspects of CITES, the international community must work together. The fact that snakes are traded live as pets, or for their skins, meat, blood, gall bladders or venom means that managing such trade can have no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer as the actors and steps along each value chain may be different.

And I note from the background documents that have been prepared for this meeting that one third of the 3,300 plus snake species in the world occur in this region and that we still know relatively little about many of these species. We do, however, know that they play a vital role within their ecosystems. For example, if snakes were to disappear from the rice fields or other crop-producing landscapes of Asia, their prey, left behind with no predator to control their numbers, could have a significant impact on agricultural production with a consequential impact on people’s livelihoods.

The harvesting of snakes, and in some cases the initial processing of their skins and other body parts, is of economic importance and contributes important revenue to local communities. And a number of these communities are located in the rural areas of developing countries, including some of the poorest.

CITES Parties have taken decisions to address the implications that trade has for both wildlife conservation and people’s livelihoods, and I have little doubt that such matters will be reflected upon when you split into working groups later in the meeting. I also expect that inputs from this workshop could be of great value to the work of the CITES Standing Committee ‘Working Group on CITES and Livelihoods’ as it completes its work under CITES Decision 15.5. 

And in this, the International Year of Forests, we should also make special note of the fact that snakes are commonly found in landscape ecosystems with tree cover.

I am also conscious that concerns have recently been expressed by some people on trade in snakes, and in particular issues related to animal welfare standards regarding the harvesting of snakes, which goes beyond the scope of the Convention. Animal welfare issues are however of concern to the Convention when we deal with international trade in live specimens.

In this context we should remind ourselves that the mandate for this workshop is defined by Decision 15.75, namely “to consider the conservation priorities and management and enforcement needs related to the trade of snakes in Asia...”. This will require participants to focus on the issues that are of particular concern to CITES, including: whether the current trade in listed snakes occurs with proper CITES documentation; whether it involves specimens that have been harvested in accordance with national legislation; and whether it is occurring in a way that is not detrimental to the survival of the species? And if not, what needs to be done?

The outcomes of this workshop will help guide the application of relevant CITES processes. For instance, both the Animals and Standing Committees will carefully consider the outcome of your deliberations this week. The next meeting of the Conference of the Parties in March 2013 will also provide an important opportunity for CITES Parties to consider whether more snake species need to be included in the Appendices of the Convention.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You have a busy few days ahead of you and a very important contribution to make. I sincerely thank you all for coming to Guangzhou and encourage you to participate actively in the wide-ranging discussions that will take place. The Animals Committee, the Standing Committee and the Conference of the Parties all look forward eagerly to learning the results of this workshop.

On behalf of the CITES family, I again would like to most sincerely thank the Government of China for its wonderful support and warm hospitality and to also place on record our sincere thanks to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the European Union for their generous financial contributions.

In closing, I would like to recognize the good work of Robert Boljesic, who led the team in the Secretariat responsible for the organization of the workshop. As some of you may know, he has recently resigned from his post as Senior Scientific Support Officer, due to family issues in his home country and, at the last moment, Robert had to cancel joining us here in China for unavoidable reasons. I sincerely thank David Morgan for stepping in at short notice. And I am sure the success of this workshop will stand as testament to Robert’s good preparatory work.

Unfortunately, I am unable to be with you throughout this meeting, but I am leaving you in good hands and offer my very best wishes for a successful outcome and thank you all once again for your participation.


See also: PRESS RELEASE: China hosts crucial meeting on the future of Asian snakes, 11 April 2011, Guangzhou, China.