Secretary-General's opening remarks at the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development 2022 - Geneva, Switzerland

Updated on 28 October 2022

On the occasion of the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Region – Coordinated by UNECE and The International Telecommunication Union

CITES Secretary-General, Ivonne Higuero, on ‘Building Digital Ecosystems’. Delivered in Geneva on 6 April 2022.

It is an honor for me to speak on this very important topic - thanks to UNECE and ITU for the invitation.

Excellencies, dear delegates, before I speak about the topic of the session, allow me to provide some background on CITES. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora or CITES is a legally binding, multilateral environmental agreement with 184 Parties.

The overall objective of the Convention is to ensure that international trade in these species is sustainable, legal and traceable to ensure their survival in the wild, providing opportunities for sustainable trade and economic development, particularly in developing countries and benefitting local communities.

It may surprise you that CITES regulates the international trade of more than 38,000 species. This regulation of international trade in CITES specimens is through a permitting system – trade in Appendix I species (about 3 percent of CITES listed species) is very restricted and trade in Appendix II species (about 97 percent of CITES listed species) is allowed only if certain conditions are met.

I believe that innovation in digitalization can play an important role to accelerate efforts to achieve the CITES objective. Greater uptake of digital solutions and advanced technologies like blockchain will create tremendous value to bolster transparency and traceability; as well as decrease the possibility of corruption throughout the process of authorized trade of specimens in CITES-listed species.

Now, let me share some food for thought about moving towards greater digitalization of CITES trade processes.

  • First, we must recognize the contexts and the inherent challenges and needs of many of our Parties; each Party must designate national Management and Scientific Authorities but there may be lack of ICT-readiness within these Authorities or their peer agencies, especially in developing countries and in countries with economies in transition. The need for investments and building digital skills should be addressed, too.
  • Second, we need to continue building on the appetite for digital solutions and must engage more with various stakeholders including the CITES Management and Scientific Authorities, customs, border agencies, enforcement authorities or other related bodies.
  • Third, we must continue to innovate. Innovation is essential in consolidating and strengthening existing solutions. This is where advanced technologies like blockchain can play an important role. I am happy to share that a few Parties are already exploring the use of blockchain in their e-permitting systems.
  • Fourth, we need to have more Parties exchanging permit data. This means we need to develop inter-operable digital systems based on international standards. I should mention that pilot exchanges have been taking place since 2017, first launched by Switzerland and France. And the European Commission is at the final stages of developing a system for EU member states. I am happy to note the collaboration between UNECE, ESCAP and UNCTAD for supporting a few other countries. Continued partnerships of international organizations to CITES Parties based on their expertise is more than welcome.
  • Last but not least, we need to develop functioning partnerships nationally, regionally and internationally.

Digital solutions work best when trade processes are coordinated and harmonized among national agencies. A case in point for CITES is cooperation between the national customs agencies and their regulatory requirements vis-à-vis the CITES Management Authorities and their requirements for control.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen the appetite to move towards digitalization or virtual means of trade. There is no denial that the transition to a digital process also means less exposure to risks and increased resilience to future pandemics or other shocks. For CITES, expanding into a full-fledged electronic CITES agenda will take us steps closer to achieving the objective of making trade legal, sustainable, and traceable.

Thank you again.