CITES Secretary-General, Mr. John E. Scanlon address to the Meeting on the Development of CITES E-Permitting Systems

Updated on 16 April 2014

9 May 2012, Guangzhou, China

Ms. YIN Hong, Vice Administrator of the State Forestry Administration
Dr. MENG Xianlin, Executive Director-General of the CITES Management Authority of China
Mr. XU Hui, Director General of the Guangzhou Branch Office of the CITES Management Authority of China
Mr. MENG Fan, Deputy Director-General, Forestry Department of Guangdong Province

"Sustainability is not achieved though one action but through the
accumulation of multiple actions. Actions such as those being taken today -
namely to put into place e-permitting systems for legal, sustainable and
traceable trade in CITES listed species - help build the essential foundations
for environmental sustainability and sustainable development
", John E.
Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General

Firstly, I wish to sincerely thank the Government of China for hosting this meeting and for the very warm hospitality shown to all participants. In particular, I would like to thank the Vice Administrator and the staff of the State Forestry Administration, and the CITES Management Authority of China, for their excellent collaboration and support. 

Thank you also to the Chair of the CITES E-permitting Working Group, CITES Parties from across Asia, as well as representatives from South America and Africa, UNEP-WCMC and the World Customs Organization, for their participation in this meeting.

And finally, I wish to thank both the European Commission and the Government of China for their generous financial support for this meeting.


CITES sits at the intersection of trade, environment and development.

It regulates international trade in close to 35,000 species of plants and animals – with international commercial trade being generally prohibited for 3% of these species, and being regulated for the remaining 97% to ensure that the trade is legal, sustainable and traceable.

The regulation of trade in CITES-listed species is made through a universally recognized system of permits and certificates. They are compiled every year and submitted as annual reports for inclusion in the CITES Trade Database, which is arguably the world’s most extensive global database on the sustainable use of biodiversity.

There are now seven billion people consuming biodiversity every day, including in the form of medicines, food, clothes, furniture, perfumes and luxury goods. Consumption of biodiversity is growing at an unprecedented rate, and our ability to harvest wildlife knows no limits. This is challenging the ability of communities and governments to use their natural resources sustainably, including not threatening the survival of species in the wild.

How do we know that we are harvesting wildlife in a sustainable and legal manner? We need indicators to help measure the impact of taking species from the wild, to assist in regulating their sustainable use, and to understand how species keep ecosystems alive and healthy.

This is why we believe this week’s meeting here in Guangzhou is so timely and important to the future and more effective implementation of the Convention.

Our Convention is unique in that it produces primary data taken from permits and certificates,and we have over 11,000,000 records in the CITES Trade Database. This data can be used to help develop indicators to assist with efforts aimed at ensuring that international trade in wildlife remains sustainable.

This trade data is currently taken from the annual reports provided by Parties.  However, if permits are electronic, such data can be registered with the CITES trade database immediately on issuance and receipt creating an up-to-the-minute resource.

This real time reporting of trade would assist in monitoring the level of trade – including for the CITES review of significant trade process, and provide CITES Scientific Authorities with access to better data when making non-detriment findings on exports and imports of CITES-listed species. 

And the ability to immediately register trade data will also help Parties meet their annual reporting obligations under the Convention.

CITES electronic permits are also more difficult to forge and easier to authenticate thereby contributing to efforts to ensure that CITES trade is legal. This factor is singularly important given that illegal trade in wildlife is now estimated by some to be worth between USD 5 and USD 20 billion dollars per year (not including marine and timber species), which is pushing many species towards extinction.

This illegal trade can also deprive local people of livelihoods, and countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage, as well as potential revenue.  It must be stopped and States need further support to achieve this - and your deliberations today will help achieve this objective.

This is because with electronic permit systems, importing countries are able to ascertain the origin of the permit, and also trace it during its entire export process. Exporting countries are able to provide importing countries with assurances that the permit was issued by proper authorities and better guarantee its authenticity. And authorities of exporting and importing countries are able to monitor the export of the specimen throughout its entire export and import processes.

Many Parties, recognizing the importance of e-permits in ensuring legal and sustainable trade, have implemented or are implementing such systems. This meeting offers an opportunity for Parties of the same region and from different regions to share their experiences on the use of CITES e-permits, and to discuss the possibility of implementing joint projects.

Parties from South America and Southern Africa are participating in today’s meeting and I would like to thank Brazil for its generous offer to make its technology and know-how freely available to Parties in the Latin American region through the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) and Central American Commission for Environment and Development (CCAD). Brazil is also making its technology available in Asia outside of these two Latin American organizations.

This is a wonderful example of South-South cooperation, which offers great potential in the development of projects using appropriate technologies and in the establishment of e-permitting systems that are harmonized and meet international standards and norms, particularly those established by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT).

It is also very pleasing to note that three CITES regions, South America, Africa and Asia, are represented in this meeting. This clearly demonstrates the high-level of interest and potential that exists in implementing regional and inter-regional projects.

Vice Administrator, colleagues, I would also like to take this opportunity to advise you that the standards on the development of CITES e-permits as published in the CITES e-permitting toolkit will be included in the next version of the World Customs Organization data model. This collaboration between our two organizations is a first for a multilateral environmental agreement and it will facilitate the development of e-permitting systems and Single Windows.

A sustainable future is being discussed in the context of the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June of this year - often known as Rio+20. 

Sustainability is not achieved though one action but through the accumulation of multiple actions. 

Actions such as those being taken today - namely to put into place e-permitting systems for legal, sustainable and traceable trade in CITES listed species - help build the essential foundations for environmental sustainability and sustainable development.  E-permitting systems offer us one of the tools we need to reach the future we want.

Finally, let me once again express our most sincere thanks to the Government of China for generously hosting this important meeting and for its financial support, the European Commission for its additional financial support, and all of you here present for sharing your experiences and expertise in helping to advance the more effective national implementation of CITES. 

Thank you