2013 WCO IT Conference & Exhibition:

Updated on 12 January 2021

Explore the ways that modern information and communications technology can lead to
exciting possibilities for a whole-of-government approach at the border

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

14 to 16 May 2013

Keynote Address

John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary-General

Your Highness, Lieutenant General, Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Minister of Interior, Your Excellency Ahmed Butti Ahmed, Executive Chairman of Ports, Customs and Free Zone and Director General of Dubai Customs, Mr. Abdul Latif Bin Rashid Al Zayani, Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC), Secretary-General, World Customs Organization (WCO), Mr. Kunio Mikuriya.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great pleasure to be invited to be with you today and I extend my sincere thanks to Dubai Customs as the most generous host of this meeting.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the preeminent global instrument for regulating international trade in wildlife.

While CITES is both a conservation and a trade-related Convention, it neither promotes nor discourages trade, rather it regulates trade when it does take place to ensure it is legal, sustainable and traceable. 

Countries have sovereign rights over their own biological resources and the decision on whether or not to trade is one for them to determine - subject to meeting their international commitments. 

The 178 countries that are Party to CITES have agreed to regulate international trade in certain species that are threatened with extinction, as well as some species that are not yet threatened with extinction but could be unless their trade is strictly regulated.

When a Party to CITES decides to trade in CITES-listed wildlife, the Convention provides the global mechanisms to ensure that such trade is not detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. It places obligations on source, transit and destination states and Parties are obliged to, inter alia, take appropriate measures to enforce the provisions of the Convention and to prohibit trade in specimens that violates the Convention, as well as to ensure that specimens pass through any formalities required for trade with a minimum of delay.

Successfully implementing CITES requires international cooperation across national borders on a daily basis - land, sea and air.

Heads of state and governments at Rio+20, held in June last year, recognized (in the outcome document, The Future We Want), the important role of CITES as an international agreement that sits at the intersection between trade, the environment and development.


Distinguished delegates, CITES currently regulates international trade in about 35,000 species of wild plants and animals, and their derivatives, with close to one million trade transactions occurring every year.

At the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP16) held in Bangkok earlier this year, hundreds of new timber species were brought under CITES controls, along with five commercially harvested shark species and all manta rays, which will bring with it some new implementation challenges, including for customs officers.

Of the CITES-listed species 3% are threatened with extinction and they are found on Appendix I of the Convention. Commercial trade in these species is generally prohibited, such as for most elephants and rhinos, as well as tigers and great apes and certain timbers and marine life.

The vast majority of species, or approximately 97%, are not necessarily threatened with extinction but they could become so if international trade is not strictly regulated. The legal trade in such species generates billions of dollars each year.  By way of example, USD 1 billion is generated annually at the upper end of the value chain for trade in five CITES-listed pythons, and one litre of Aquilaria crassa, an oil derived from agarwood, is valued at USD 80 million.

The benefits of this regulated trade for local and indigenous communities are significant. For example, the vicuña, a cousin of the lamas, was close to extinction in the late 1960s in the Andean countries, with less that 6,000 individuals left in the wild.  In 1975, countries decided to prohibit its commercial trade under CITES. Today, the wool of the vicuna can be traded under strict regulatory controls and the population of vicuñas now exceeds 350,000 and provides a secure livelihood for local communities.

Such conservation efforts can however be seriously undermined by illegal trade. For example, the illegal trade in the same CITES-listed pythons just referred to is estimated to be worth the same amount as that of the legal trade - and this is undermining the sustainability of the trade.

The regulation of trade in CITES-listed species is made through a universally recognized system of permits and certificates. Data from these permits and certificates are compiled each year and submitted as annual reports for inclusion in the CITES Trade Database, which, with over 13 million records to date, is arguably the world’s most extensive global database on the sustainable use of wildlife. It is freely available on the CITES website.

CITES is a data driven Convention that makes best use of modern technologies.


As CITES celebrates in 2013 the 40th anniversary of its adoption with many conservation successes, it also confronts the worst spike in decades in the illegal killing of elephant and rhino and illegal trade in their ivory and horn - which is increasingly driven by organized crime and in some instances rebel militia groups. 

These disturbing trends put at risk the good conservation gains of the past decades and threaten the very survival of the species in the wild. The illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn has now reached a scale that poses an immediate risk to the survival of local and regional populations of these majestic animals, as well as a risk to people, including those who are serving in the front-lines to protect wildlife who are being injured and killed in the line of duty. 

This criminal activity can also pose a serious threat to the social and economic stability, as well as the national security, of these countries; it is quite literally robbing countries of their natural resources and cultural heritage, and it is undermining good governance and the rule of law. It must be stopped and the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice recently resolved to encourage its Member Staes to make illicit trafficking in wild fauna and flora a serious crime when organised criminal groups are involved.


Distinguished delegates, we are confronted by many challenges as well as many opportunities. 

In addressing them it is apparent that 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 years. It gives real and practical effect to the Memorandum of Understanding that our two organizations signed in 1996. 

Customs provides the frontline assurance that trade remains legal and sustainable. It works to ensure that requisite trade documentation is authentic and valid thereby ensuring that legal trade remains “legal” and it intersects illegal trade.

This critical role contributes to the sustainable use of wildlife and to the livelihoods of local and indigenous communities.

Simply stated, CITES efforts could not succeed without the contribution of Customs.

Yet, no matter how effective our relationship, CITES and WCO cannot do it all alone. Like so many other 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. 


An excellent example of a “whole-of-government” type approach being taken at the Global level is the collaborative initiative to combat wildlife crime known as the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime or more commonly referred to as “ICCWC” - and I would like to pay tribute to Secretary General Mikuriya who embraced the idea of such a consortium when it was first proposed in late 2009 and launched the following year.

ICCWC is composed of the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization (WCO).

The mission of ICCWC is to usher in a new era where the perpetrators of serious wildlife crimes face a formidable and coordinated response, rather than the present situation where the risk of detection and punishment is all too low. In this context, ICCWC mainly works for, and with, the wildlife law enforcement community, since it is frontline officers who ensure that perpetrators are brought before the justice system. 

By way of example, this has included hands-on training for 18 countries across Africa and Asia in the enforcement technique known as controlled deliveries.


Distinguished delegates, we are aware that today’s Customs officer has a multitude of tasks to perform and a myriad of contraband forms to watch out for. 

We are working with many partners, including the WCO, to help to find and to deploy new and creative ways to use state-of-the-art technology to support the indispensable role of Customs officers in regulating international trade in wildlife - and I would like to share a few examples with you today. 

Standards, CITES electronic permitting systems and the WCO Data Model

One of the very concrete results from our partnership with the WCO has been the inclusion of standards for CITES electronic permitting systems in the WCO Data Model.  This achievement assists Parties to CITES in developing national and regional e-permitting systems that are harmonized with international standards and to Single Windows environments. 

This will result in more effective ways to control international trade in wildlife, and contribute to an integrated inter-agency approach in achieving desired objectives, particularly with regard to efforts related to more effective coordinated border management.

We greatly appreciate the contribution of the WCO through their participation in the CITES e-permitting Working Group, which is composed of representatives from Parties, intergovernmental and international organizations, as well as non-governmental organizations.

Inclusion of CITES e-permitting standards in the WCO Data Model also paves the way for other multilateral environmental agreements.   For example, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources can use the standards agreed to by CITES and the WCO and found in the WCO Data Model for the development of their requisite electronic regulatory systems. This will reduce costs, development time, and provide for more secure, error free and traceable systems for their trade. 

Reflective of the benefits gained by this collaboration is a project funded by the European Union that has seeded a larger scale USD 3 million dollar infrastructure project to assist member countries of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization to develop and implement CITES e-permitting systems that are harmonized with national Single Window environments.  This project, which is drawing on state-of-the-art Brazillian technology, is a great example of South-South cooperation and has reached out to countries in southern Africa to invite their participation.

CITES electronic resources on species and electronic trade documentation

Another project which will engender greater cooperation with Customs officials in the field is the linking of CITES electronic resources on species with electronic trade documentation.  Under this project, users of a CITES electronic system will be able to “pull” species information required on a permit from the CITES electronic Checklist, which contains the official nomenclature of the almost 35,000 species regulated under the Convention. 

This will reduce errors, allow for connection with identification and other species-related databases, and provide Customs officials with common names as well as scientific names.

DNA technologies

CITES is also using DNA technologies to better identify and trace species in trade and to fight illegal trade in wildlife. For example, in 2012, the Global Environment Facility provided South Africa with a multi-million USD project to reduce poaching of rhinoceroses and the illegal international trade in their horns by strengthening enforcement capacity through forensic-based technologies.

Other efforts to provide countries with access to cutting edge DNA technologies include discussions with the Consortium for the Bar code of Life initiative - under the Smithsonian Institute - where six target countries (in developing regions) will use these technologies to assist with the prosecution of those engaging in illegal trade of CITES-listed species.  Initially, Parties will have access to the genetic information on approximately 2,000 CITES-listed species that have experienced high levels of trade.

Traceability of specimens

Parties at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES adopted a decision which directs that “Range States of Strombus gigas (the Queen Conch - a mollusc fished in Caribbean waters) should collaborate in exploring ways to enhance the traceability of specimens in international trade, including, but not limited to, catch certificates, labeling systems and the application of genetic techniques” representing the first time CITES Parties will use such technologies to better regulate trade in marine species.

The Secretariat is working with the private sector - and I reach out to the private sector representatives here today - to help provide Customs and enforcement officials in the field with hand-held devices to better monitor legal trade, identify species and monitor poaching and illegal killing of species, such as the elephant and the rhino.

Efforts are also underway to use such devices to better track illegal trade in timber. For example, the Secretariat and the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) collaborated on a Review of Electronic and Semi-Electronic Timber Tracking Technologies to provide guidance to anyone who is planning to use such systems.

These efforts will facilitate the work of Customs officials by providing more secure systems, better identification tools, and the ability to trace the complete international trade supply chain in a particular or range of species. This will contribute to reducing illegal trade and to ensuring legal, sustainable and traceable trade.


A number of electronic capacity building tools have also been developed to assist Customs to better understand the Convention and assist with the identification of species, which is critical.

For example, the CITES Virtual College offers a number of courses, including one for enforcement officers and another specifically designed for Customs officials, on the provisions of CITES and on its mechanisms to regulate trade.  The courses are open to any officials wishing to improve on their knowledge of the Convention.

Other capacity building efforts in collaboration with the WCO include the designing of the next phase of the very successful project GAPIN (Great Apes and Integrity) which now targets illegal trade in great apes, elephants, rhinoceroses and pangolins, including by sharing CITES training materials. 

Under the Green Customs initiative, the CITES Secretariat developed a number of electronic presentations on how to identify species and their derivatives, including one on ivory, artificially propagated and wild plants, and crocodile skins, among many others. These presentations have been very popular with officials working in the field.


The collaborative approach achieved by the CITES Secretariat and the WCO and other international organizations and initiatives working to better regulate international trade in wildlife is increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of efforts by countries to ensure that such trade is legal and traceable, particularly efforts that use new technologies to achieve desirable objectives. 


Customs has always been and remains a key and indispensable partner for CITES.

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

There are few better examples of successful collaboration than the one between our two organizations and few international treaties that are better served by the Customs community than CITES.

Distinguished delegates, through their tireless efforts - day in and day out - the WCO and front-line Customs officers from right across the Globe are ensuring that wild animals and plants, in their many beautiful and varied forms, will be protected for this generation and the generations to come for which we express our profound gratitude.

I sincerely thank you once again for inviting me here today and we look forward to our ongoing collaboration.