CITES experts draft sustainability guidance: trade in CITES species should not be detrimental to their survival or their role within the ecosystem

Updated on 21 December 2023


Nairobi, 18 December 2023 — With global biodiversity projected to decline by 10 per cent by 2050, ensuring the sustainability of human activities, such as legal and traceable international trade in wildlife, is critical for safeguarding the survival of wild animal and plant species, as well as the benefits and ecosystem services they provide to humans, including food, medicine, shelter and cultural significance.

Rhodiola rosea (green succulent plant) (CITES Appendix II) © asadykov / Adobe Stock
Rhodiola rosea (CITES Appendix II) © asadykov / Adobe Stock

At the core of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) lies a fundamental process known as a Non-Detriment Finding (NDF): a pivotal science-based assessment that evaluates the sustainability of trade in specimens of species listed in the CITES Appendices by determining whether or not a trade activity will be detrimental to the survival of CITES-listed species in the wild. An NDF is an essential prerequisite for granting export permits for species listed in CITES Appendices I and II. The process involves assessments conducted by designated Scientific Authorities of Parties to the Convention (CITES Parties).

More than 150 experts and delegates from 42 Parties and 25 organizations attended the International Expert Workshop on CITES NDFs from 4-8 December 2023 in Nairobi, Kenya. Organized by the CITES Secretariat, the workshop discussed and refined 11 modules, with the objective of providing non-legally binding guidance to CITES Parties – primarily the CITES Scientific Authorities – on different aspects of making an NDF.

The modules covered various aspects including what an NDF is, the importance of adaptive management and practical guidance on how to make an NDF. Specific guidance was considered and further developed for certain taxonomic groups, including birds, reptiles, terrestrial invertebrates, plants, aquatic species and timber-producing trees. Experts elaborated further the special considerations for NDFs for migratory species and transboundary populations, as well as guidance on how to use local and traditional knowledge in the NDF process. The workshop also considered the complexities involved in the assessment of determining if the purpose of the import of Appendix I-listed species is not detrimental.

One key issue tackled at the workshop was the assessment of a species’ role in its ecosystem. The roles of species in the ecosystems range from direct interactions (pollination, nutrition, herbivory, predation) and indirect interactions (habitat creation, ecosystem engineering, nutrient cycling and redistribution). CITES requires that Scientific Authorities in each Party monitor trade in specimens of species included in Appendix II. Scientific Authorities could limit trade in order to maintain that species throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystems in which it occurs and well above the level at which that species might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I, in which case international trade in wild specimens for commercial purposes is prohibited.

The use of digital technology was discussed in regard to enhancing the process of making NDFs. Some examples presented during the workshop included eNDFs for sea cucumbers and sharks. At present, NDF materials are shared, accessed and searched by taxonomic group and country on the online NDF Reports Database, provided by the CITES Secretariat.

CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero stated: “Ensuring the sustainability of the trade in wildlife requires clear communication and understanding of CITES requirements between importing and exporting countries. Our work to refine this understanding and develop guidance is also rooted in the invaluable knowledge and contributions of indigenous peoples and local communities as custodians of biodiversity and as partners in its conservation, restoration and sustainable use.”

Early in 2024, the workshop outputs will be finalized, and a period of field testing will commence, providing Parties the opportunity to put the NDF guidance developed during this workshop to the test. The final draft guidance will be submitted for consideration by the joint meeting of the Animals and Plants Committees, the Convention’s scientific committees, in July 2024.

group of people standing outside a building waving
Participants in the International Workshop on NDFs in Nairobi, Kenya



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About CITES 

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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