CITES Secretary-General Opening Remarks

Updated on 31 January 2014

Saturday 3 June 2007

Madam Minister, Deputy Mayor, Mr Chairman of the Standing Committee, your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
It makes me extremely proud to stand here before you today, at the beginning of this 14th meeting of the CITES Conference of the Parties, hosted by my own country, The Netherlands. I am very grateful indeed to the Dutch Government, and Minister Verburg in particular, for inviting CITES to The Hague and I should like to compliment its Mayor and Mr Baldewsingh, the Deputy Mayor, on making The Hague the great city it is today. I should also like to compliment Ms Petra Berger. As long as there are people who can sing like her, this world is not the gloomy place it is so often portrayed to be and her first song, The Circle of Life, reflects what CITES stands for.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all know too well that many animal and plant species are endangered as a result of human activities, such as habitat destruction, poaching, over-harvesting and pollution.
These threats to wildlife have continued to grow as expanding human populations, development, poverty and war have tested the ability of animals and plants to survive. Likewise, international trade has increasingly placed pressure on many species.
CITES has therefore in its more than 30 years existence not lost any of its importance as an international legal instrument to conserve biodiversity. To the contrary, it is now more important than ever to ensure that trade in wildlife is non-detrimental and to combat illegal trade in wild animals and plants.
During these more than 30 years, CITES has shown to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. It constantly developed new tools to allow its Parties to efficiently cope with changing trade patterns, the increased involvement of organized crime in poaching and illegal trade and many other challenges related to wildlife conservation.
CITES has grown and matured.
The Convention's Appendices, the lists of regulated species, remain dynamic, but their overall size has more or less stabilized as species are both added and removed at each of our conferences.
CITES rules and procedures have developed into a coherent and well-established system for promoting non-detrimental wildlife trade and conservation. CITES has also learned to balance conservation and sustainable use and created different strategies for different situations.
CITES increasingly seeks to make conservation and poverty reduction mutually supportive. I want to stress the important contribution of CITES towards achieving Millennium Development Goal 1. In order to significantly reduce poverty and promote development, it is essential to achieve sustained and broad-based economic growth. Trade obviously is an important engine of growth and that is what CITES is all about. Commercial trade, conducted in accordance with CITES is by definition non-detrimental to species or to their role in ecosystems and trade that is not permitted under CITES reduces threats to species and ecosystems.
CITES is also a means of integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and reversing the loss of environmental resources. It further helps managing ecosystems for environmental sustainability (Millennium Development Goal 7); ecosystems that provide services that sustain human livelihoods.
There can be no doubt that wildlife species are fundamental to livelihoods and economic growth, they are vital to the lives and well-being of local communities and many rural areas depend on them. The WWF report, entitled Species and People: Linked Futures, presents case studies on the contribution of wildlife conservation to rural livelihoods and the Millennium Development Goals. The report states that issues which threaten species are often the same as, or are closely related to, some of the root causes of poverty. These include the marginalization of rural communities, weak governance and political instability.
It is the rural poor who live in natural areas and use natural resources for their survival. The conclusion of the WWF report is that species conservation can and does deliver on, inter alia, poverty reduction and livelihood improvement.
CITES and livelihoods will be an issue at this meeting. A proposal by the European Union and several countries from other continents builds on the earlier recognition by the Conference of the Parties, that the implementation of CITES listing decisions should take into account potential impacts on the livelihood of the poor. This has been misunderstood by some. It is therefore important to note that this recognition cannot and should not stop species from being listed because there is or might be a problem for livelihoods. Species are to be listed in accordance with the scientific biological criteria that have been established by the Parties, but the implementation of the relevant trade regime should take the interests of the livelihood of the poor into account. Where, for example, a prohibition on commercial international trade in a species is necessary, there are in many cases ways to allow certain activities to continue. I think, among other things, of trophy hunting, the benefits of which should go to the local communities sharing their environment with the species concerned. Where that is not the case other international organizations or donor will need to ensure proper compensation for the loss of income of rural communities.
I attach great importance to the role CITES can play in this context and I find it unfortunate that this role is being denied by some, who advocate that CITES should not get involved in things that are not within its initial 'mandate' as they see it, that is the protection of animals and to a lesser extent plants, but certainly not people. It is surprising though that those involved do not want to see the bigger picture, which is so clearly illustrated in the WWF report I just mentioned.
The Parties to CITES agreed to develop appropriate domestic legislation and policies that encourage the adoption of social and economic incentives that promote and regulate sustainable management of, and responsible trade in, wild fauna and flora. Also here, there is criticism by those who maintain that it is not the role of CITES to encourage trade. I wholeheartedly agree with them, but in fact that is not what this is about. We do not encourage trade, but where a sovereign country decides to exploit wildlife for international trade, we must ensure that it is conducted in a sustainable manner, in accordance with CITES. We do not encourage trade, we encourage the sustainability thereof, also by means of social and economic incentives.
The question is how compliance with the Convention can be made more attractive than non-compliance. Parties have tended to place quite some emphasis on the use of coercive compliance and enforcement, which is one of the strong points of CITES of course and quite a unique one in the world of multilateral environmental conventions. But there is an increasing recognition that the use of specific incentive measures can also make an important contribution to the effective implementation of CITES.
In addition to preventing more species from becoming threatened, CITES has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping species that were already endangered to return from the brink. By lifting trade bans rather than by establishing or maintaining them. Examples of crises transformed into success stories include the South American vicuña and the Nile crocodile, two species whose survival was assured when CITES transformed their wool and skins into valuable and sustainably managed commodities of benefit to local communities. I also think of the positive effects of CITES on sturgeon and African elephant conservation.
By proving itself to be an effective and robust tool for promoting both non-detrimental trade and conservation, CITES has attracted 171 Parties, including all major wildlife trading countries. More and more non-governmental organizations are actively engaged with CITES, as demonstrated by the numbers of participants at our meetings. CITES has become a sophisticated operation and its conferences are major global events.
This meeting will be such a major event, the more so because it will be decisive for the role CITES will play, or will be allowed to play rather, in the years to come. 
Governments clearly want and expect more from CITES, they recognize its competence and its value. The effectiveness of CITES in managing 'traditional' wildlife issues has convinced governments to expand its role in supporting sustainable development. Species in the commercial fisheries and timber industries were long considered off limits to the Convention, but several are now listed in the CITES Appendices.
This meeting will discuss proposals to list more fish and timber species and, for the first time in the history of CITES, a Ministerial meeting will be held to discuss not only the need to enhance the enforcement of the Convention, but also the role CITES should play in the conservation of fish and timber species.
Timber species that have been included in CITES so far were so at a far too late stage, when the species were already or almost commercially extinct.
One of the issues to be addressed by ministers next week is how CITES can be used at an earlier stage as a complement to management agreements for fish and timber. Obviously, when moving into these areas, close collaboration with organizations such as FAO and ITTO is a must to make things work, but also the private sector should be closely involved and committed.
Consolidating the achievements of the Convention around the world, maintaining the progress made in many developing countries to sustainably manage their wildlife, allowing other developing countries to improve their situation, moving into new policy areas and listing more commercial species, all these activities require sufficient resources.
But unfortunately, at the same time as these developments take place, many governments are not prepared to support them with the financial resources needed at either the national or international levels. In fact we are possibly confronted with a major financial crisis where the Secretariat and its activities in support of, in particular, developing countries are concerned. An important increase of contributions to the Trust Fund and of voluntary contributions will be necessary if the Parties are serious about achieving the goals of a new Strategic Vision to be adopted at this meeting and if the Parties do mean business about CITES getting more involved in commercial species and other new activities.
I am therefore very grateful to Minister Verburg for having taken the initiative to discuss these important issues with a great number of colleagues in an unprecedented effort to put CITES higher on the political agenda, to further develop the role of CITES and to ensure the availability of the necessary resources for that.
Ladies and gentlemen, I gave you a brief overview of the achievements of CITES in the past 30 years, achievements we should all be proud of. 
I indicated what I believe are the further developments to be expected from this meeting. I have expressed my worries and concerns about the financial basis for the Convention and about the difficulties to finance the ambitious programme of work that will result from this meeting. I hope and expect that in the following two weeks positive answers are found to all the issues before us, that the future development of the Convention will be guaranteed and that CITES will remain the important tool it is today for preserving wild animals and plants for future generations.
Our discussions will be greatly helped by the excellent facilities made available by the Dutch government and the hospitality of the Dutch people and of the City of The Hague in particular, for which I again should like to express gratitude on behalf of all participants. I should also like to thank the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, the staff of Minister Gerda Verburg, for the incredible amount of work it has put into the preparation and organization of this meeting. And lastly, I should like to thank my own staff for the blood, sweat and tears put into the meeting and the high quality of the many documents they churned out. I am proud of you guys!
Dear friends, representatives of CITES Parties and non-governmental organizations; this is a rare occasion to meet so many colleagues and friends in one place for a two-week period. I hope you will all profit from it and learn from each other. The stakes are sometimes high and you will not agree on all issues. CITES is rather unique in that we vote on issues, but always after a fair debate and having listened to many opinions, of Party delegates as well as of NGO representatives. We are from different continents, from different cultures, with different attitudes, but we have one purpose: to conserve nature. No one at this meeting loses as long as conservation wins. To make that happen I wish you all, lots of wisdom in your deliberations. 
Ladies and gentlemen,
I hereby declare the 14th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES opened.
Thank you.