eCITES: Transforming Global Wildlife Trade Management

Updated on 26 September 2023

By CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero 14 September 2023 

We have all witnessed how rapidly digitalization has progressed in recent years and I am excited to share with you how CITES is embracing the digital age. Major progress has been made by Parties, the Secretariat, and its partners on the electronic CITES permitting system (eCITES).  

Did you know that more than 97 per cent of species listed in the CITES Appendices are allowed to be commercially traded under a permitting system? Carrying the responsibility of regulating international trade in more than 40,000 species of plants and animals, CITES mandates that specimens of species listed in the CITES Appendices must have official trade documentation such as permits and certificates. Unfortunately, problems can arise with the use of paper documentation, including fraudulent use, laborious manual permitting procedures, lack of access to trade and transaction information and weak collaboration between actors.  

Complications in keeping track of documents during issuance, transportation, and verification could result in forged paper documents. This may involve declaring false information, altering documents, reusing them, or even theft. Corruption can play a role in the prevalence of forged documents. There also have been cases where lost paper permits were used illegally due to delays in reporting and the extended duration of subsequent notifications among Parties.  

Fortunately, such problems are much less likely to happen when using eCITES. eCITES is more than just turning paper documents digital. It encapsulates four distinct electronic elements – permit application and issuance, control of trade in CITES-listed species, reporting of CITES-trade statistics and exchange of permit information between Parties. eCITES has clear advantages in efficiency, transparency, and accountability when compared to traditional paper permits. Beyond being an environmentally friendly, paper-saving, and efficient solution, it is also a powerful tool for combating illegal trade. Government agencies can more effectively conduct inspections and identify individuals or entities engaged in unlawful activities. Implementing eCITES also fosters collaboration and data sharing with Customs and border control agencies. This is why the Secretariat is dedicating so much energy to its promotion and seeking donors to support countries that need funding. 

Let's take Sri Lanka as an example since it was the first country to implement ASYCUDA eCITES Solution in 2020. The results were impressive: a 40 per cent boost in annual permit approvals, a drop from 19 canceled permits to 0, and the average permit processing time has significantly reduced from 175 hours to 36 hours, all between 2020 and 2022. These outcomes underscore its effectiveness in facilitating legal and sustainable wildlife trade and curbing illicit activities, thereby enhancing species protection in Sri Lanka. Moreover, eCITES can also automatically generate annual reports, providing valuable data for enhanced analysis and monitoring—a capability that was previously unavailable before its introduction in Sri Lanka in 2020.  

I would like to express my gratitude to the 31 Parties that have made significant progress in implementing eCITES systems, as well as the additional 12 Parties that are in the early planning stages. Their efforts have greatly contributed to increasing transparency, preventing the misuse of fraudulent permits, enhancing cross-border exchange, and strengthening international cooperation. 

However, we also face challenges in further promoting eCITES. This includes the need to make a compelling case for investment in the system, especially in countries with low permit volumes where cost recovery may not be straightforward. Additionally, there is a need to carefully balance trade management efforts with law enforcement requirements by establishing robust risk-based control systems. Ensuring that the various solutions adopted by Parties remain interoperable and open for data exchange is another important consideration.  

We are pleased to share here news about the upcoming WTO Public Forum 2023. There will be a great opportunity to explore ways to benefit from digital technologies while also addressing environmental needs during the high-level panel ‘Digital Boost to Green Innovation’ that will take place on September 14. 

With heartfelt appreciation for the achievements made by Parties and our partners, we are deeply committed to exploring the most effective means of realizing the benefits of eCITES. I wholeheartedly call for increased cooperation and support to address these challenges and, in doing so, contribute to sustainable, legal, and traceable wildlife trade. 


Learn more about eCITES here