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EU ban on wild bird imports
Geneva, 11 January 2007 – The Secretariat of the Convention
on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora (CITES) expressed its disappointment today at the announcement
by the European Union of an indefinite ban on imports of wild
The EU ban has been adopted on the grounds that it will help
prevent the spread of avian flu and other diseases in human beings,
but as it only concerns the import of wild birds, it risks casting
the wrong impression that the international bird trade is not
effectively controlled. However, this trade is carefully regulated
by the 169 member countries of CITES.
The global trade in wild birds has declined from an estimated
7.5 million birds a year in 1975 (when CITES came into effect)
to around 1.5 million today. By contrast, the global trade in
live domestic poultry involves some 750 million birds a year;
this trade, however, is not affected by the EU’s new health-related
law as chicken and other poultry are not considered to be ‘birds’
under its terms.
The international trade in wild birds now consists mostly of
West African finches, which are naturally abundant in their countries
of origin. A recent analysis by Birdlife International showed
that just 0.5% of the world’s bird species appear to be
significantly threatened by international trade. Virtually all
of these threatened species are subject to stringent controls
by CITES. (The main threat to wild birds is habitat destruction
While CITES itself does impose trade bans on international trade
in specimens of highly endangered species such as sea turtles
and the tiger, it recognizes that bans risk creating black markets.
By ending legal and tightly managed imports, the EU risks driving
the market underground and making it less transparent. It also
risks undermining the impoverished communities who depend on the
environmentally sustainable trade in birds and removing their
economic incentives for protecting bird habitat.
The expert report that prompted the new EU legislation did not
address the ban’s expected impact on nature conservation
in the source countries. Nevertheless, it concluded that "Some
local communities in countries of origin maintain bird habitat
in order that they can catch wild birds for export and derive
a significant part of their income from such sales. These practices
can have a beneficial effect on bird conservation, even if birds
are removed from wild populations and there are bad effects on
Parties to CITES have also taken measures to reduce mortality
in transport. The transport standards set for live animals by
the International Air Transport Association are mandatory for
all CITES-approved shipments. An extensive study for CITES by
the German Government revealed that mortality rates for birds
during transport for international trade was just 1.36%.
CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers commented “We
understand the need to combat the threat of avian influenza, but
the definitive and inflexible nature of the decision appears disproportionate
and risks to hamper conservation efforts in developing countries
by depriving them and poor local communities of the benefits of
wildlife for their livelihoods. Sustainable development is about
taking decisions that fully reconcile social, economic and environmental
“It is disappointing that in this case no account appears
to have been taken of the environmental impact of this measure.
The risk is that it may undermine attempts to render the use of
wild birds sustainable in developing countries. Instead, the emphasis
should be on strictly regulated trade”, he added.
In addition to its impact on the international trade in wild
birds, the new law will require bird breeders in developing countries
to comply with specified terms and conditions before they can
register themselves as traders to the EU of captive-bred birds.
Ironically, CITES established such a registration system for operations
breeding in captivity specimens of endangered species many years
ago, but the EU decided not to implement the measure. Other importing
countries have also established unilateral rules for trade in
captive-bred birds. Consequently, bird breeders in developing
countries must now comply with several different sets of registration
rules before being able to export.
"Wildlife trade controls are most likely to be effective
when they are simple to implement and have been established on
a cooperative, multilateral basis", commented Mr Wijnstekers.
Note to journalists:
For more information, please see www.cites.org or contact Juan
Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or
Michael Williams at +41 22 917 8242, +41 79 409 1528 (cell) or
Michael.email@example.com. A summary on German transport mortality
study is available here.
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