Opening address by His Excellency Dr.Thaksin Shinawatra Prime Minister of Thailand

Minister Suwit, 
Mr.Klaus Töpfer, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme,
Mr. Willem Wijnstekers, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, 
Mr. Kenneth Stansell, Chairman of the Standing Committee of CITES, 
Your Excellencies, 
distinguished delegates,
ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government and people of Thailand, I would like to extend to you all a very warm welcome to Bangkok, and to the 13th meeting of the Conderence to the Parties to CITES. We are particularly honoured since this is the first ever such gathering to be held in Southeast Asia. Thailand is proud to host this important Convention, and we hope that your time here proves to be both memorable and productive. We thank you for travelling to our Kingdom, and for the valuable work you will be conducting over the next two seeks on the globally important issues surrounding endangered species on our planet today.
We recognize that these important issues are critical for our country, our region, and our world at large, I can well appreciate that the problems facing you are not easy ones to resolve. Over the years, CITES has proved to be an essential instrument in matters of nature conservation. Unfortunately, such conservation is constantly under threat from criminal activities and human greed: therefore, so much depends on your concerted efforts today.
As the leader of a country that has experienced the adverse after-effects of the illegal cross-border trading of endangered species, I would like to underscore the increasing need for all of us to step up our international law enforcement cooperation through CITES. Certainly, Thailand wants to make CITES work for all of the countries in the world by finding a way, at this meeting, to increase our global cooperation in the reduction of nature related crimes.
As we all know, the destruction of our natural resources poses a global threat to the health and biodiversity of this planet. The often unseen trafficking in protected species of plants and animals, not only contravenes the law and diminishes the richness of our natural world, but, also ultimately deprives us of our humanity.
Globally, the illegal trading in wildlife, timber and other natural resources is now surpassed only by the trafficking in drugs and weapons. This, in itself, is a shocking statistic. To make matters worse, it as been found that criminal elements involved in conventional forms of organized crime are often linked to this illegal trade in wildlife and timber.
Another problem is that any increase in legislation to protect plant and animal species, often results in corresponding increase in the resolve of dishonest people, who are determined to violate the law for their own quick profit. It is incumbent upon us to meet this challenge-through serious concerted efforts and stringent law enforcement.
Distinguished delegates,
ladies and gentlemen,
Animals and plants certainly have a high profile in people's consciousness. But there are many less obvious but equally precious ecological and geographical systems upon which human populations depend for food, air and water. Our national parks, sanctuaries, waterways, and wilderness are not simply places for recreation. They are also rich reservoirs of biodiversity, contributing to national food production, human wealth and well-being, as well as economic prosperity for our countries.
In every sense of the word, our natural resources play a crucial part in the security and welfare of our peoples, but effective national and regional security is also dependent on the ability of all parties to work together to find the necessary solutions to our existing problems It is dependent on the will of all Parties to join together in search of these solutions. And it is dependent on our common determination to facilitate law enforcement in the implementation of such solutions. Surely, creating solutions in nothing, without vigilant law enforcement. In saying this, I am speaking not only as a Prime Minister, but also as a former police officer.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Like so many other countries that are rich in biodiversity, Thailand has been targeted by criminal elements involved in the illegal international trade in endangered species. Protected forests have been violated and indigenous species have suffered, all for the sake of profit.
In this regard, Thailand recognizes the need to better protect its natural resources for the sake of future generations. Therefore, we have stepped up our law enforcement efforts to better comply with CITES directives. We have set up 'task force' units all over the country to respond quickly to information about illegal trade in wildlife specimens. This has already resulted in a reduction of the illegal trade in this country, although much more remains to be done.
The problem, however, extends well beyond our borders and jurisdiction. Acting alone, we cannot fully eliminate the illegal activity, even in our own country. Acting together, we can all make a difference in tackling this serious problem. To be sure, there is no country that can fight this battle alone. 
For this reason, I am convinced that increased government-to-government cooperation in fighting these nature crimes is absolutely essential, if Asia is to maintain its precious natural resources.
Our unique wildlife which is an integral part of our national pride, deserves nothing but our very best effort. Our lush national parks, our watersheds, our protected areas, and our beaches, rivers and mountains are all a responsibility that we must shoulder diligently, I am certain that what I am talking about must sound familiar to all of you since you have been devoting your time and energies to this very important issue.
We have assembled here from all over the world-from different races, cultures and geographical settings. Any yet, what I have to say about Thailand can also be said about the countries you all have left to attend this Conference. The problem is truly global and challenging. I, therefore, suggest that our common response must also be global. The key challenge, however, is in its implementation.
Towards this end, I would therefore like to propose that Thailand is prepared to take the lead in the formation of a new "Southeast Asian Regional Law Enforcement Network to Combat Nature Crimes". If this distinguished body agrees with such an idea, Thailand is ready to host a meeting in 2005 to work out the details of establishing such a network. Once established and successful, this proposed Network could, at some time in the future, join forces with other law enforcement networks around the world. I ask that you give serious consideration to this idea, and also seek the advice of those who have succeeded in similar efforts. By learning from one another's successes and failures, we will be able to take a shortcut towards achieving our common goals.
distinguished delegates,
In closing, I would like, once again, to take this opportunity to welcome you all to Thailand. I hope that your stay here is an enjoyable and productive one. I hope that the next two weeks will provide an opportunity to bring all of our nations closer together, and that we will make significant strides in securing real and lasting protection for all of our natural resources. Let us join hands to end the illegal international trade in wildlife-for our own sake and for the sake of our children.
Thank you very much.