Remarks by John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General,on the occasion of the 30th meeting of the World Customs Organization’s Enforcement Committee

Updated on 16 April 2014

Brussels, Belgium, 21 March 2011

Secretary General
Distinguished delegates
Ladies and Gentlemen

"There are many calls for increased synergy and collaboration between intergovernmental organizations…there are few better examples of successful collaboration than exists between CITES and WCO."

It was with considerable pleasure that I accepted the kind invitation to address this Committee, as it begins its deliberations on a very wide range of enforcement-related issues. This is my first visit to the headquarters of the World Customs Organization since assuming the post of Secretary-General last May and I hope it will be the first of many.

Last year, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly known as CITES or the Washington Convention, celebrated 35 years since it entered into force.

CITES is a global convention with 175 parties - and another six in the process of accession - and achieving its aim of ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival requires international cooperation on a daily basis.

When CITES was drafted in the early 1970s it was recognized that border control would be an absolutely vital element if the Convention was to succeed. It is very much due to the work of the Customs authorities around the world that CITES is now regarded as one of the most successful multi-lateral environmental agreements. And it is Customs officers who are very much the front-line in ensuring that people who seek to rob countries of their natural resources are prevented from moving their contraband across national borders.

CITES and the WCO share common objectives – facilitating legal and sustainable trade, whilst ensuring that illicit trade can be identified, intercepted, and responded to appropriately.

The CITES and WCO Secretariats enjoy a very close working relationship and have done so for many, many years. It gives real and practical effect to the Memorandum of Understanding that our two offices signed in 1996. Over the years we have benefited greatly from the enthusiasm and dedication shown by the several WCO Secretariat staff members who have been designated as our focal points, none more so that our current liaison point, Hui Fu. I also wish to place on record our sincere appreciation for the personal commitment and leadership that Secretary General Mikuriya brings to combating environmental crime.

The working relationship takes many forms.

  • In the field of capacity-building, both through e-learning and in delivering face-to-face training, especially in developing countries. Initially solely focused on CITES, this has, in recent years, expanded greatly through the Green Customs partnership;
  • In the collection and sharing of seizure data, particularly data relating to illegal trade in ivory;
  • In the sharing of intelligence, through our CITES Alerts, to aid risk-assessment, targeting and profiling, and
  • In the assessment of national trade controls where, for example, WCO Secretariat staff joined us in examining ivory trade measures in China and Japan. We hope that WCO staff will soon join us in conducting technical missions to gorilla range States, to help design strategies to safeguard these highly endangered animals.

WCO staff have also actively participated in CITES Enforcement Task Forces and the CITES Enforcement Expert Group and our two secretariats are currently collaborating with regard to the development of CITES e-permitting systems.

Indeed, we recognized that e-trade and e-permitting are new trends that will impact significantly on trade in CITES-listed species. We have, therefore, made every effort to ensure that our work in this field complies with the WCO Data Model. This will facilitate the use of CITES e-permits by Parties and ensure that CITES trade remains legal, sustainable and traceable. We were delighted when a WCO official recently joined the CITES E-commerce Working Group. The role of Customs is central to its work and members of the Working Group will profit immeasurably from the expertise and experience in your organization.

But we realize that CITES and WCO, no matter how effective our relationship, cannot do it all alone. Like so many others forms of trafficking, the illegal trade in wildlife increasingly involves organized crime groups, using sophisticated harvesting and smuggling techniques, alongside violence towards, and attempts to bribe, law enforcement officials.

This is why I was delighted by the enthusiasm which was shown by Secretary General Mikuriya when the concept of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime, known by its acronym ICCWC, was first mooted late in 2009. I was sorry when his heavy work schedule prevented him from joining us at the launch of the Consortium in St Petersburg in November last year, at the International Tiger Forum hosted by Prime Minister Putin of the Russian Federation. But I’m delighted to be here today to most sincerely thank him in person for his commitment to this wonderful initiative.

Bringing together CITES, INTERPOL, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the World Bank, and the World Customs Organization, ICCWC aims, through collaboration and coordination, to bring support to national agencies, including of course Customs, to bolster their efforts in responding to illegal trade in protected animals and plants. A group of senior experts from the five partner organizations met last month at UNODC headquarters in Vienna and the Committee will hear more about that this week. I hope, Chairperson, that you and your members will agree with me that this offers an exciting opportunity to bring a new era to protecting the world’s rare fauna and flora.

I congratulate the WCO Secretariat and those Customs authorities that recently took part in Operation GAPIN, targeting illegal movements of wildlife from Africa. This was a highly successful initiative, which I know the Committee will also learn more about this week. The CITES Secretariat was honoured to have been able to provide specialist advice during the operation.

The CITES Secretariat is currently in the process of recruiting two new members of staff to work on enforcement issues. I cannot predict from what sort of background the appointees will come, but I would be delighted to see someone with Customs experience join our team in Geneva.

Secretary General, Chairperson,

The Conference of the Parties to CITES, in common with many UN institutions, politicians and diplomats, regularly calls for increased synergy and collaboration between intergovernmental organizations.

Although I am relatively new to CITES, I have worked in international affairs for many years. I believe there are few better examples of successful collaboration than that which exists between our offices in Belgium and Switzerland.

And I believe there are few international treaties that are better served by the Customs community than CITES.

I am very aware that today’s Customs officer has a multitude of tasks to perform and a myriad of contraband forms to watch out for. Distinguished delegates, on behalf of CITES, and its signatory Parties, I thank you most sincerely for all of the extraordinary work that you do on a daily basis to ensure that local communities around the world can benefit from sustainable trade in wildlife, whilst also ensuring that future generations can see and enjoy our planet’s animals and plants in their natural environment.

Please allow me to wish the WCO Enforcement Committee success in its deliberations and assure you of our continued support.

Thank you.