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CITES proposals on wildlife trade address over-fishing, illegal logging
and recovery of large charismatic animals
14 June 2004, Geneva – The publication here today of a preliminary review assessing proposals for amending international wildlife trade rules marks the start of a debate on the conservation and sustainable use of wild plants and animals that will conclude with important regulatory decisions at a major conference in Bangkok, Thailand from 2 to 14 October.
“Although its roots go back to the 1960s, CITES clearly remains at the centre of the global debate over wildlife conservation,” said Executive Director Klaus Toepfer of the United Nations Environment Programme, which administers the CITES secretariat. “Many of the new proposals also confirm that CITES can effectively contribute to sustainable development and poverty alleviation,” he added.
The 50 government proposals reveal some of the key trends and issues. The closely-watched issue of commercially valuable fish is being shaped this year by proposals by Australia and Madagascar on the one hand, and by Fiji, the European Union and the United States on the other hand to add the great white shark and the humphead wrasse, respectively, to the CITES trade regime. If accepted, these proposals would require that in future permits be issued and non-detriment findings made for trade in these species.
The humphead wrasse is a large reef fish from the Indian and Pacific oceans that is highly prized by fishermen. The great white shark is perhaps best known as the star of the “Jaws” film. It is a rare and slowly maturing carnivore at the top of the ocean food chain and is sometimes caught by recreational fishermen. A major step towards using the CITES trade rules for protecting commercially valuable shark species was taken in 2002 when the whale shark – the world’s largest fish – and the basking shark were both included in Appendix II.
Another industrial sector where CITES rules have more frequently been introduced is trade in high-value timber and tree products. Shipments of Latin America’s big leaf mahogany have required CITES export permits since last November. Now Indonesia is proposing tighter controls for trade in ramin, which is one of Southeast Asia’s major export timbers, and agarwood trees, which contain the valuable “agar” oil widely used for making incense, perfumes and medicines.
“The continued interest in how CITES could contribute to the conservation and management of high-value fish and trees reflects growing concerns about the declining health of the world’s oceans and forests,” said CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.
A recurring theme on the CITES agenda is the continued overexploitation of medicinal plants. Of the four related proposals, for example, one by the United States and China addresses Asian Taxus species (yew trees), whose leaves are used to produce paclitaxel, a key ingredient for one of the world’s biggest-selling cancer drug.
Another group of animals that needs CITES attention is Asian turtles and tortoises. Vast numbers of wild turtles are sold in food markets in China and other fast-developing Asian nations. Some 30 species are already covered by CITES; there are eight proposals to bring trade of more Asian species under CITES controls.
Other proposals seek to ease the rules on trade in some of the large, beautiful and exotic animals that have been icons of the conservation movement since the 1960s and 1970s. The proponents argue that some have now recovered sufficiently to permit some highly controlled trade.
The debates over whether or not to permit trade in the world’s largest sea and land mammals have been staples of CITES conferences for many years. International trade in ivory from the African elephant was authorized under CITES until 1989. Healthy and well-managed elephant populations in Southern Africa allowed CITES to agree to one-off sales of stockpiled ivory in 1997 and again in 2002. The 2002 sales from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa have not yet occurred pending the establishment of baseline data on poaching and populations.
Namibia has now submitted a proposal for an annual export quota of two tonnes of ivory. Both Namibia and South Africa are proposing to trade elephant leather goods commercially. A dialogue meeting of the African elephant range States will be held immediately before the Bangkok conference to seek a regional consensus on the way forward.
Commercial whaling has been prohibited under the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since the mid-80s and cannot resume until a management regime has been agreed upon. Japan is now proposing that the ban on three populations of minke whale be relaxed to allow international trade. Similar proposals by Japan and Norway in the past have not been accepted, in part owing to the provision that CITES must be consistent with the conservation measures agreed by IWC.
Other proposals for easing controls on CITES-listed species involve the Cuban crocodile and the Nile crocodile. Zambia, for example, is requesting an annual export quota, of up to 548 wild rather than ranched specimens. Swaziland believes it is now safe to permit a highly controlled trade in trophies and live specimens of the southern white rhinoceros.
Meanwhile, the United States would like to replace the current trade ban on the American bald eagle with the permit system and remove the bobcat completely from CITES.
The preliminary review by the CITES Secretariat focuses on whether the proposals have sufficiently addressed the various listing criteria. These criteria relate to trade (is the species being actively traded? is trade really the problem rather than, say, habitat destruction?); biology (what is the scientific evidence that populations are declining or increasing?); and other technical matters (e.g. has the proponent consulted thoroughly other range states?).
Later in the summer, once other Parties and interested bodies have expressed their views on the proposals, the Secretariat will publish a second assessment including recommendations on the proposals.
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Additional background information
CITES, whose Secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme, provides three regulatory options in the form of Appendices. Animals and plants listed under Appendix I are excluded from international commercial trade except in very special circumstances. They include all the great apes; various big cats such as cheetahs, the snow leopard and the tiger; numerous birds of prey, cranes, and pheasants; all sea turtles; many species of crocodiles, tortoises and snakes; and some cacti and orchids.
Commercial trade is permitted for species listed in Appendix II, but it is strictly controlled on the basis of CITES permits. This Appendix includes all those primates, cats, cetaceans, parrots, crocodiles and orchids not listed in Appendix I.
Finally, Appendix III includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country. An Appendix-III listing allows a country to call on others to help it regulate trade in the listed species. This Appendix also requires CITES documentation.
Thousands of species around the world are endangered as a result of human activities such as habitat destruction, poaching, over-harvesting, and pollution. CITES was adopted in 1973 to address the threat posed by just one of these activities: unsustainable international trade. To date, some 166 countries have become Parties to the treaty, making it one of the world's most important agreements on species conservation and non-detrimental use of wildlife.
Even after commercial fishing and the timber industry are set aside, the international trade in wildlife is big business, estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually and to involve more than 350 million plant and animal specimens every year. Unregulated international trade can push threatened and endangered species over the brink, especially when combined with habitat loss and other pressures.
CITES accords varying degrees of protection to some 30,000 plant and animal species depending on their biological status and the impact that international trade may have upon them. Appendix I contains fewer than 600 animal species and a little more than 300 plant species, whereas Appendix II covers over 4,100 animal species and 28,000 plant species – seven times as many animal species and ninety times more plant species. Appendix III, which includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country, lists over 290 species.
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