CITES Secretary-General Opening Remarks
Saturday 3 June 2007
Madam Minister, Deputy Mayor, Mr Chairman of the Standing Committee,
your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It makes me extremely proud to stand here before you today, at
the beginning of this 14th meeting of the CITES Conference of the
Parties, hosted by my own country, The Netherlands. I am very grateful
indeed to the Dutch Government, and Minister Verburg in particular,
for inviting CITES to The Hague and I should like to compliment
its Mayor and Mr Baldewsingh, the Deputy Mayor, on making The Hague
the great city it is today. I should also like to compliment Ms
Petra Berger. As long as there are people who can sing like her,
this world is not the gloomy place it is so often portrayed to be
and her first song, The Circle of Life, reflects what CITES
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know too well that many animal and
plant species are endangered as a result of human activities, such
as habitat destruction, poaching, over-harvesting and pollution.
These threats to wildlife have continued to grow as expanding human
populations, development, poverty and war have tested the ability
of animals and plants to survive. Likewise, international trade
has increasingly placed pressure on many species.
CITES has therefore in its more than 30 years existence not lost
any of its importance as an international legal instrument to conserve
biodiversity. To the contrary, it is now more important than ever
to ensure that trade in wildlife is non-detrimental and to combat
illegal trade in wild animals and plants.
During these more than 30 years, CITES has shown to be able to
adapt to changing circumstances. It constantly developed new tools
to allow its Parties to efficiently cope with changing trade patterns,
the increased involvement of organized crime in poaching and illegal
trade and many other challenges related to wildlife conservation.
CITES has grown and matured.
The Convention's Appendices, the lists of regulated species, remain
dynamic, but their overall size has more or less stabilized as species
are both added and removed at each of our conferences.
CITES rules and procedures have developed into a coherent and well-established
system for promoting non-detrimental wildlife trade and conservation.
CITES has also learned to balance conservation and sustainable use
and created different strategies for different situations.
CITES increasingly seeks to make conservation and poverty reduction
mutually supportive. I want to stress the important contribution
of CITES towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 1. In order
to significantly reduce poverty and promote development, it is essential
to achieve sustained and broad-based economic growth. Trade obviously
is an important engine of growth and that is what CITES is all about.
Commercial trade, conducted in accordance with CITES is by definition
non-detrimental to species or to their role in ecosystems and trade
that is not permitted under CITES reduces threats to species and
CITES is also a means of integrating the principles of sustainable
development into country policies and reversing the loss of environmental
resources. It further helps managing ecosystems for environmental
sustainability (Millennium Development Goal 7); ecosystems that
provide services that sustain human livelihoods.
There can be no doubt that wildlife species are fundamental to
livelihoods and economic growth, they are vital to the lives and
well-being of local communities and many rural areas depend on them.
The WWF report, entitled Species and People: Linked Futures,
presents case studies on the contribution of wildlife conservation
to rural livelihoods and the Millennium Development Goals. The report
states that issues which threaten species are often the same as,
or are closely related to, some of the root causes of poverty. These
include the marginalization of rural communities, weak governance
and political instability.
It is the rural poor who live in natural areas and use natural
resources for their survival. The conclusion of the WWF report is
that species conservation can and does deliver on, inter alia, poverty
reduction and livelihood improvement.
CITES and livelihoods will be an issue at this meeting. A proposal
by the European Union and several countries from other continents
builds on the earlier recognition by the Conference of the Parties,
that the implementation of CITES listing decisions should take into
account potential impacts on the livelihood of the poor. This has
been misunderstood by some. It is therefore important to note that
this recognition cannot and should not stop species from being listed
because there is or might be a problem for livelihoods. Species
are to be listed in accordance with the scientific biological criteria
that have been established by the Parties, but the implementation
of the relevant trade regime should take the interests of the livelihood
of the poor into account. Where, for example, a prohibition on commercial
international trade in a species is necessary, there are in many
cases ways to allow certain activities to continue. I think, among
other things, of trophy hunting, the benefits of which should go
to the local communities sharing their environment with the species
concerned. Where that is not the case other international organizations
or donor will need to ensure proper compensation for the loss of
income of rural communities.
I attach great importance to the role CITES can play in this context
and I find it unfortunate that this role is being denied by some,
who advocate that CITES should not get involved in things that are
not within its initial 'mandate' as they see it, that is the protection
of animals and to a lesser extent plants, but certainly not people.
It is surprising though that those involved do not want to see the
bigger picture, which is so clearly illustrated in the WWF report
I just mentioned.
The Parties to CITES agreed to develop appropriate domestic legislation
and policies that encourage the adoption of social and economic
incentives that promote and regulate sustainable management of,
and responsible trade in, wild fauna and flora. Also here, there
is criticism by those who maintain that it is not the role of CITES
to encourage trade. I wholeheartedly agree with them, but in fact
that is not what this is about. We do not encourage trade, but where
a sovereign country decides to exploit wildlife for international
trade, we must ensure that it is conducted in a sustainable manner,
in accordance with CITES. We do not encourage trade, we encourage
the sustainability thereof, also by means of social and economic
The question is how compliance with the Convention can be made
more attractive than non-compliance. Parties have tended to place
quite some emphasis on the use of coercive compliance and enforcement,
which is one of the strong points of CITES of course and quite a
unique one in the world of multilateral environmental conventions.
But there is an increasing recognition that the use of specific
incentive measures can also make an important contribution to the
effective implementation of CITES.
In addition to preventing more species from becoming threatened,
CITES has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping species that
were already endangered to return from the brink. By lifting trade
bans rather than by establishing or maintaining them. Examples of
crises transformed into success stories include the South American
vicuña and the Nile crocodile, two species whose survival
was assured when CITES transformed their wool and skins into valuable
and sustainably managed commodities of benefit to local communities.
I also think of the positive effects of CITES on sturgeon and African
By proving itself to be an effective and robust tool for promoting
both non-detrimental trade and conservation, CITES has attracted
171 Parties, including all major wildlife trading countries. More
and more non-governmental organizations are actively engaged with
CITES, as demonstrated by the numbers of participants at our meetings.
CITES has become a sophisticated operation and its conferences are
major global events.
This meeting will be such a major event, the more so because it
will be decisive for the role CITES will play, or will be allowed
to play rather, in the years to come.
Governments clearly want and expect more from CITES, they recognize
its competence and its value. The effectiveness of CITES in managing
'traditional' wildlife issues has convinced governments to expand
its role in supporting sustainable development. Species in the commercial
fisheries and timber industries were long considered off limits
to the Convention, but several are now listed in the CITES Appendices.
This meeting will discuss proposals to list more fish and timber
species and, for the first time in the history of CITES, a Ministerial
meeting will be held to discuss not only the need to enhance the
enforcement of the Convention, but also the role CITES should play
in the conservation of fish and timber species.
Timber species that have been included in CITES so far were so
at a far too late stage, when the species were already or almost
One of the issues to be addressed by ministers next week is how
CITES can be used at an earlier stage as a complement to management
agreements for fish and timber. Obviously, when moving into these
areas, close collaboration with organizations such as FAO and ITTO
is a must to make things work, but also the private sector should
be closely involved and committed.
Consolidating the achievements of the Convention around the world,
maintaining the progress made in many developing countries to sustainably
manage their wildlife, allowing other developing countries to improve
their situation, moving into new policy areas and listing more commercial
species, all these activities require sufficient resources.
But unfortunately, at the same time as these developments take
place, many governments are not prepared to support them with the
financial resources needed at either the national or international
levels. In fact we are possibly confronted with a major financial
crisis where the Secretariat and its activities in support of, in
particular, developing countries are concerned. An important increase
of contributions to the Trust Fund and of voluntary contributions
will be necessary if the Parties are serious about achieving the
goals of a new Strategic Vision to be adopted at this meeting and
if the Parties do mean business about CITES getting more involved
in commercial species and other new activities.
I am therefore very grateful to Minister Verburg for having taken
the initiative to discuss these important issues with a great number
of colleagues in an unprecedented effort to put CITES higher on
the political agenda, to further develop the role of CITES and to
ensure the availability of the necessary resources for that.
Ladies and gentlemen, I gave you a brief overview of the achievements
of CITES in the past 30 years, achievements we should all be proud
I indicated what I believe are the further developments to be expected
from this meeting. I have expressed my worries and concerns about
the financial basis for the Convention and about the difficulties
to finance the ambitious programme of work that will result from
this meeting. I hope and expect that in the following two weeks
positive answers are found to all the issues before us, that the
future development of the Convention will be guaranteed and that
CITES will remain the important tool it is today for preserving
wild animals and plants for future generations.
Our discussions will be greatly helped by the excellent facilities
made available by the Dutch government and the hospitality of the
Dutch people and of the City of The Hague in particular, for which
I again should like to express gratitude on behalf of all participants.
I should also like to thank the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture,
Nature and Food Quality, the staff of Minister Gerda Verburg, for
the incredible amount of work it has put into the preparation and
organization of this meeting. And lastly, I should like to thank
my own staff for the blood, sweat and tears put into the meeting
and the high quality of the many documents they churned out. I am
proud of you guys!
Dear friends, representatives of CITES Parties and non-governmental
organizations; this is a rare occasion to meet so many colleagues
and friends in one place for a two-week period. I hope you will
all profit from it and learn from each other. The stakes are sometimes
high and you will not agree on all issues. CITES is rather unique
in that we vote on issues, but always after a fair debate and having
listened to many opinions, of Party delegates as well as of NGO
representatives. We are from different continents, from different
cultures, with different attitudes, but we have one purpose: to
conserve nature. No one at this meeting loses as long as conservation
wins. To make that happen I wish you all, lots of wisdom in your
Ladies and gentlemen,
I hereby declare the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties
to CITES opened.