CITES Animals Committee dives into review of significant trade in sharks, rays and other animal species at 32nd Meeting

Updated on 20 July 2023


Geneva, 5 July 2023 — Five days of extensive deliberations on the sustainability of trade in animal species and recommendations for further review concluded on Friday, 23 June 2023, marking the end of this year’s CITES Animals and Plants Committee Meeting season.

AC32 plenary session conference room view of participantsDuring their 32nd meeting last week (19 – 23 June 2023), the CITES Animals Committee established five in-session working groups dedicated to: trade in stony corals (Scleractinia spp.), nomenclature, Review in Significant Trade (RST) in specimens of CITES Appendix II species, captive-bred and ranched specimens, and sharks and rays (Elasmobranchii spp.).

The Committee also established five intersessional working groups to work during the coming months and report to the next CITES Animals Committee meeting on matters relating to seahorses, stony corals, eels, nomenclature and the role of CITES in reducing the risk of future zoonotic disease emergence associated with international trade.

In total, 263 participants attended the meeting, comprising 153 government delegates and 110 representatives from observer organizations.

Sharks and rays (Elasmobranchii spp.) made a big splash during the meeting’s discussions and were selected for the first time for the Review of Significant Trade (RST), a process designed to identify species that may be subject to unsustainable levels of international trade and identify problems and solutions concerning effective implementation of the Convention.

Given the wide geographical distribution of the many CITES-listed shark and ray species, coupled with the difficulty in identifying parts and derivatives, the Committee discussed, among other issues, whether the selection should be made at a genus level rather than at the species level and whether all countries across their distribution or across an ocean basin should be included. The Animals Committee agreed to consider the circumstances in which it would be appropriate for the RST process to include country/species combinations at a higher taxonomic level or broader geographic scope.  

In total, the Animals Committee selected 21 species/country combinations for RST across several taxonomic groups, including birds, reptiles and sharks and rays. The last time this selection process took place was at the 29th Meeting of the CITES Animals Committee in 2017, as the process was postponed in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.   

In between sessions, the CITES Secretariat hosted 2 side events, the first of which was jointly organized with the Development Law Service of the Legal Office of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). Titled “FAO-CITES: strengthening institutional cooperation for better sustainability and Legality Findings in the fisheries sector,” this side event showcased the importance of partnerships in effective implementation of CITES regarding commercially exploited aquatic species. Recent examples of such partnerships include the FAO-CITES Workshop on CITES, fisheries and legal acquisition findings (LAF) and the UNCTAD-OECS-CITES Blue BioTrade Initiative.

The second side event hosted by the Secretariat on “Progress on the Non-detriment Finding (NDF) Project” provided information on implementation to date. Presenters elaborated on NDF guidance, the role of species in their ecosystems, aspects to be considered when making an NDF for the import of Appendix I-listed species and transboundary considerations in making NDFs. An international expert workshop on NDFs will take place later this year to discuss the draft guidance developed through this project.

AC32 NDF side event_meeting room view of presentersThe CITES Animals Committee meeting was chaired by the Head of CITES Management Authority of Switzerland, Mathias Lörtscher, who said: “It was an honor and a privilege to chair the deliberations and collaborations that CoP entrusted us to deal with. We have gone through difficult times in the past years, with the COVID-19 pandemic giving us a lot to catch up on and helping us realize that we are just part of the world’s ecosystems. Thanks to the participation of my fellow Members, the Secretariat, technicians and interpreters, and NGOs and IGOs whose contributions to this meeting allowed for rich discussions.”

Reflecting on the meeting’s proceedings in her closing remarks, CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said: “Many thanks to our Chair in guiding us through this extensive agenda, and to our vice-chair, Hugh Robertson, as well as to our Committee Members for generously sharing their scientific and technical guidance and advice. Although this meeting is over, the work is only beginning, and it will be a busy period between now and the next meeting of the Animals Committee. We can leave here to celebrate a week of collaboration, partnership, commitment to animal conservation and sustainable trade.

On behalf of the CITES Secretariat, Secretary-General Higuero paid tribute to the late Dr Thomas Althaus who represented the European region as Member / alternate Member of the Animals Committee (AC) between CITES CoP10 and CoP15 and who chaired six AC meetings between CoP12 and CoP15.

This was the first time that the CITES Plants Committee meeting occurred before the Animals Committee meeting, with the 26th Meeting of the CITES Plants Committee having taken place 5 – 9 June 2023. As is often the case, several issues that were discussed required inputs from both Committees. Therefore, the Animals and Plants Committees agreed to establish 7 joint intersessional working groups relating to the review of the IPBES Report on the Assessment of the Sustainable Use of Wild Species, country-wide significant trade review, nomenclature of Appendix III listed species and higher taxon listings, assessment of Appendix I-listed species, identifying species at risk of extinction affected by international trade, materials for the identification of specimens of CITES-listed species, and review of CITES provisions related to trade in specimens of animals and plants not of wild source.

These working groups will report back to the joint Animals and Plants Committee meeting scheduled to take place in 2024.

The CITES Secretariat is meanwhile tasked with convening several technical expert meetings, preparations for the 77th Meeting of the CITES Standing Committee coming up in November 2023 and the NDF workshop in December 2023.

CITES Animals Committee Members group photo


For more information on the 32nd Meeting of the Animals Committee (AC32)

Agenda and Documents

Media Accreditation

Previous Animals Committee Meetings

AC32 live stream

AC32 Photos



The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on 1 July 1975. With 184 Parties (183 countries + the European Union), it remains one of the world's most powerful tools for wildlife conservation through the regulation of international trade in over 40,900 species of wild animals and plants. CITES-listed species are used by people around the world in their daily lives for food, health care, furniture, housing, tourist souvenirs, cosmetics or fashion. CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in such species is sustainable, legal and traceable and contributes to both the livelihoods of the communities that live closest to them and to national economies for a healthy planet and the prosperity of the people in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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