CITES Secretary-General's address at the CITES CoP17 Ministerial Lekgotla - 23 September 2016 - Johannesburg, South Africa

CITES CoP17 - Ministerial Lekgotla - 23 September 2016, Johannesburg

Address by John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General CITES

‘CITES and its role in advancing the achievement of the SDGs through legal and sustainable trade and tackling illegal trade in wildlife’

Thank you Minister Molewa.

Today’s Ministerial High Level Event is the largest such gathering in the history of CITES, and the CoP to start tomorrow is the largest and busiest meeting in the history of the Convention. It is clear that everyone wants to be right here in Johannesburg!

Minister, congratulations and sincere thanks to you and your team for all you have done to host today’s event and the forthcoming  CoP.

There are many people here today who do not work every day on CITES issues and not everyone present will have the same level of familiarity with the Convention. In starting today’s discussion it is perhaps helpful for all of us to have a common understanding of what CITES is and what it does before moving to discuss CITES and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

CITES is a legally binding international agreement that regulates international trade in wildlife in order to ensure that such trade does not threaten its survival. While CITES regulates international trade, there are particular circumstances where the Convention has sought to also address domestic trade. The extent to which it can do so is one of the matters that will be debated over the coming days, especially as it relates to trade in ivory.

Once a species is listed under CITES through one of its appendices it imposes legally binding obligations on source, transit and destination States not to trade in that species, or any part or derivative, other than in accordance with the Convention. CITES also has a compliance process and does use compliance measures in instances where a Party is failing to comply with the Convention, with the ultimate measure being a recommendation to suspend trade in CITES listed species with a Party.

It is for this reason that the recently released UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Wildlife Crime Report described CITES as an international agreement of remarkable power and scope, which defines the rules that the wildlife traffickers seek to circumvent.

CITES neither encourages nor discourages trade. It regulates trade when it does take place to ensure that it is legal, sustainable and traceable. States have sovereign rights over their own natural resources and it is for each State to determine whether it wishes to trade or not to trade in its wildlife, subject of course to meeting its international obligations, especially those under CITES.

There are different trade controls imposed under CITES depending upon the biological status of the species. CITES currently regulates trade in over 35,000 species of wild animals and plants, both terrestrial and marine, which are included in two main lists covering about 99% of CITES listed species. For today, I will only focus on these two main lists.

These lists go by two names – Appendix I and Appendix II, which are a part of the Convention. The species found in Appendix I are already threatened with extinction and there is no commercial trade allowed in wild taken specimens. Appendix I includes about 1,000 or 3% of the species listed under CITES, such as great apes, marine turtles and tigers.

The species found in Appendix II are not yet necessarily threatened with extinction but they could become threatened if their trade is not strictly regulated, with any trade transactions to be reported to the CITES Secretariat. This can be seen as an early expression of the precautionary approach. There are about one million trade transactions reported to the Secretariat each year, including trade in the bark of the African cherry tree, the fine wool of the vicuña, the oil extracted from Agarwood, the skin of the alligator, and the meat of the queen conch.

CITES obliges States to take measures to enforce the Convention, including to prohibit trade that violates the Convention and to penalize such trade, as well as to create or to designate two institutions, namely a management authority and a scientific authority. The management authority is obliged to follow the advice of the scientific authority regarding the sustainable take of wildlife for export. These provisions emphasize the importance of the rule of law and are an early expression of the science policy interface.

The Parties to CITES have recognized the benefits to people and their livelihoods and to species of legal, sustainable and well regulated trade. It does, however, depend very much on the context, including local governance, the level of agreement amongst range States, and the specific nature of the trade.

Examples of such beneficial trade include the trade in the wool of the vicuña from Peru, where local people have been given rights to harvest the wool. International trade in the wool has benefited local communities and the population of vicuña. One Peruvian village alone employs directly and indirectly 1,000 people from the harvest and trade in the wool. And the overall numbers of vicuña have increased from about 6,000 in the late 1960’s to over 400,000 today.

A recent study by International Trade Centre, to be released at this CoP, shows the benefits to local people in Malaysia and Vietnam of trade in python skins and our work with the International Tropical Timber Organization on the trade in the bark of the African cheery tree has resulted in better forest management in Cameroon as well as great benefits for local communities.

There have been two important recent developments under CITES, namely the increasing use of the Convention to regulate trade in commercially harvested timber and marine species through listings under Appendix II.

In 1975 when CITES entered into force it regulated trade in 18 timber species. At CoP16 held in Bangkok in 2013 this number grew to over 600 species and there are another 300 timber species proposed for listing here at CoP17. At CoP16 we also saw five species of commercially harvested sharks, as well as all manta rays, come under CITES trade controls.

CITES also works to combat illegal trade in wildlife, which can affect species listed in both Appendix I and Appendix II. This includes the illegal trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn, both of which are included on Appendix I, and where no commercial international trade is permitted.

However, we also find illegal trade in Appendix II listed species where people do not get the necessary permits to trade, such as with illegal trade in python skins and rosewood.

The impacts of this illegal trade are many and varied. It impacts people, livelihoods, economies, security, undermines the rule of law, and fuels corruption right across the illegal supply chain – and tackling corruption is an agenda item here at CoP17. The impacts of illegal wildlife trade include the destruction of the wildlife assets that underpin wildlife based tourism. And for Appendix II species, which can be commercially traded with the right permits, it severely undermines the sustainability of trade, as we have seen with pythons and rosewood.

Both in relation to regulating legal and sustainable trade and to combating illegal wildlife trade, CITES works in close collaboration and partnership with many different organizations within and outside of the UN.  Partners for our work on legal and sustainable trade include FAO, International Tropical Timber Organization, International Trade Centre, International Air Transport Association, IUCN, UNDP, UNEP, including UNEP-WCMC, which manages the CITES trade data base for the Secretariat, the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), the World Trade Organization, and the UN World Tourism Organization.

On combating illegal trade in wildlife, CITES has focused on the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), a highly effective partnership established in 2010 between the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, UNODC, the World Bank and the World Customs Organization to provide coordinated enforcement support at the national and regional levels. We also work with the newly created Global Wildlife Programme, established under the Global Environment Facility, as well as a wide range of other partners.

In some fora, when discussing the SDGs there is a tendency to focus on CITES leading role in combating illegal wildlife trade, which is specifically addressed through two targets under Goal 15. Yet, it is in the wider context of CITES also regulating legal and sustainable trade that we approach the SDGs and CITES contribution towards achieving them. In this context, CITES contributes towards:

  • Goal 1 on no poverty;
  • Goal 12 on responsible consumption and production;
  • Goal 14 on life below water; and
  • Goal 15 on life on land,

As can be seen, CITES also contributes towards institution building and the rule of law and hence to Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong intuitions, as well as Goal 17 on partnerships for the goals, which goes to the very heart of the way CITES operates.

Earlier I mentioned that UNODC described CITES as defining the rules that the wildlife traffickers seek to circumvent. Put another way, CITES is an agreement that sets the international rules that local and national authorities and the private sector follow to ensure that consumers of wildlife buy legally and sustainably sourced products.

I conclude by reminding us of the outcomes of Rio+20, the Future We Want, which described CITES as “an international agreement that stands at the intersection between trade, the environment and development, promotes the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, [and] should contribute to tangible benefits for local people…”

We would like to encourage you all to consider CITES role in advancing the achievement of Agenda 2030 and the SDGs in this wider context and I close by again thanking our most generous and wonderful host, Minister Molewa and the Government and people of South Africa.