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EU ban on wild bird imports “disappointing”
Geneva, 11 January 2007 – The Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) expressed its disappointment today at the announcement by the European Union of an indefinite ban on imports of wild birds.
The EU ban has been adopted on the grounds that it will help prevent the spread of avian flu and other diseases in human beings, but as it only concerns the import of wild birds, it risks casting the wrong impression that the international bird trade is not effectively controlled. However, this trade is carefully regulated by the 169 member countries of CITES.
The global trade in wild birds has declined from an estimated 7.5 million birds a year in 1975 (when CITES came into effect) to around 1.5 million today. By contrast, the global trade in live domestic poultry involves some 750 million birds a year; this trade, however, is not affected by the EU’s new health-related law as chicken and other poultry are not considered to be ‘birds’ under its terms.
The international trade in wild birds now consists mostly of West African finches, which are naturally abundant in their countries of origin. A recent analysis by Birdlife International showed that just 0.5% of the world’s bird species appear to be significantly threatened by international trade. Virtually all of these threatened species are subject to stringent controls by CITES. (The main threat to wild birds is habitat destruction and degradation.)
While CITES itself does impose trade bans on international trade in specimens of highly endangered species such as sea turtles and the tiger, it recognizes that bans risk creating black markets. By ending legal and tightly managed imports, the EU risks driving the market underground and making it less transparent. It also risks undermining the impoverished communities who depend on the environmentally sustainable trade in birds and removing their economic incentives for protecting bird habitat.
The expert report that prompted the new EU legislation did not address the ban’s expected impact on nature conservation in the source countries. Nevertheless, it concluded that "Some local communities in countries of origin maintain bird habitat in order that they can catch wild birds for export and derive a significant part of their income from such sales. These practices can have a beneficial effect on bird conservation, even if birds are removed from wild populations and there are bad effects on bird welfare".
Parties to CITES have also taken measures to reduce mortality in transport. The transport standards set for live animals by the International Air Transport Association are mandatory for all CITES-approved shipments. An extensive study for CITES by the German Government revealed that mortality rates for birds during transport for international trade was just 1.36%.
CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers commented “We understand the need to combat the threat of avian influenza, but the definitive and inflexible nature of the decision appears disproportionate and risks to hamper conservation efforts in developing countries by depriving them and poor local communities of the benefits of wildlife for their livelihoods. Sustainable development is about taking decisions that fully reconcile social, economic and environmental needs”.
“It is disappointing that in this case no account appears to have been taken of the environmental impact of this measure. The risk is that it may undermine attempts to render the use of wild birds sustainable in developing countries. Instead, the emphasis should be on strictly regulated trade”, he added.
In addition to its impact on the international trade in wild birds, the new law will require bird breeders in developing countries to comply with specified terms and conditions before they can register themselves as traders to the EU of captive-bred birds.
Ironically, CITES established such a registration system for operations breeding in captivity specimens of endangered species many years ago, but the EU decided not to implement the measure. Other importing countries have also established unilateral rules for trade in captive-bred birds. Consequently, bird breeders in developing countries must now comply with several different sets of registration rules before being able to export.
"Wildlife trade controls are most likely to be effective when they are simple to implement and have been established on a cooperative, multilateral basis", commented Mr Wijnstekers.
Note to journalists:
For more information, please see www.cites.org or contact Juan Carlos Vasquez at +41 22 917 8156 or juan.vasquez [at] cites.org, or Michael Williams at +41 22 917 8242, +41 79 409 1528 (cell) or Michael.williams [at] unep.ch. A summary on German transport mortality study is available here.
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