27th Meeting of the CITES Plants Committee: Opening Remarks by CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero

Updated on 08 July 2024


27th Meeting of the CITES Plants Committee

Opening Remarks by CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero

8 July 2024, Geneva, Switzerland


Madame Chair of the Plants Committee, 

Members of the Plants Committee,

Distinguished delegates and participants, 

Dear colleagues and friends, 

Welcome to Geneva and welcome to the 27th meeting of the Plants Committee! Warm thanks to you for traveling here to join us. I am sure I speak for all in thanking the Government of Switzerland for their generous financial contribution for this meeting to be held at CICG. We have more than 270 participants registered to attend the meeting including 59 observer Parties and 35 observer organizations. For those who have heard me urging more attention to the role of plants, the interest in the work of the Plants Committee is very encouraging!

It is a privilege to address such a dedicated group of experts like yourselves, a reflection of your commitment to ensure the long-term conservation of plant species through the effective implementation of CITES. Since we last met in June 2023, our Chair, the Vice-Chair, and the members of the Committee have been working closely with the Secretariat and the intersessional working groups so that significant progress can be reported at the present meeting. The precious time, technical expertise, and advice you have given to support the implementation of the decisions adopted at the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties have paid off. The agenda reflects the milestones achieved collectively during this inter-sessional period. 

Thanks to your hard work, you have draft recommendations that will guide Parties to improve the long-term implementation of the Convention in matters relating to agarwood, orchids, neotropical tree species, African tree species and medicinal and aromatic plant species. 

As the Chair has mentioned, PC27 has a packed agenda with 45 items to be discussed. Fifty-seven documents, more than 2,000 pages, have been prepared covering a broad range of issues, including the review of significant trade process that is critical to ensure trade in Appendix II listed species is sustainable. I will have more to say about this a little later. 

We look forward to receiving your input on the progress made in the implementation of the numerous decisions directed to the Secretariat. This includes the new global study on CITES-listed rosewoods, annotation 15, Paubrasilia echinata, medicinal and aromatic plants, guidance on artificial propagation, CITES and forests, nomenclature checklists for Diospyros and aloes, and of course, the new phase of the CITES tree species project. 

I would like to take a moment to express my gratitude to donors who supported the Secretariat through their financial contributions to implement the decisions of the Conference of the Parties when they met in Panama in 2022. I also wish to acknowledge our dedicated partners working with us on associated projects. Thanks to our collective efforts and discussions at the present meeting, I am confident we can report to the Standing Committee at SC78 and the Conference of the Parties at CoP20 that we were up to the challenge!

Ladies and gentlemen, 

We do, however, have challenging discussions ahead of us. We must review the progress achieved in the implementation of recommendations under the review of significant trade process, including for African rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus), and make recommendations for the new species selected following CoP19. I am thankful for the diligence in which the range States implementing these recommendations have communicated progress to the Secretariat. This has allowed us to report with greater accuracy and will greatly facilitate the recommendations that the Plants Committee will develop in the upcoming days. 

Later this week, you will have the joint discussions with the Animals Committee. To start on an inspiring note, we will open with the new guidance on non-detriment findings. It was inspiring to host a passionate CITES community in beautiful Nairobi in December 2023 for the international expert workshop on NDFs!

Furthermore, our collaboration with the Animals Committee will delve into matters crucial to both Committees, from the CITES Strategic Vision, Assessment of Appendix-I listed species, Country wide significant trade, to identification materials and nomenclature matters. It is going to be a packed day and a half for the joint session with 20 documents to be discussed.

I would like to express my gratitude for the collaborative and participatory way work has been delivered by the Plants Committee supported by observer Parties and organizations. My sincere thanks also to the Chair and Vice Chair for their leadership and collegiality; it is always a pleasure working alongside them.

At the same time, I am compelled to ask for your support of the hard-working members of the CITES Secretariat. Over the years, we have seen an exponential growth of the workload of the Secretariat, but without the core financial and human resources needed to keep up with this growth. There are only three scientific officers and one programme assistant supported by the core budget resources and one junior officer supported by the trust fund savings as agreed by the CoP until 2025. They prepare most documents for these meetings; and we are lucky to have such generous colleagues who get involved in all work and help as much as possible. However, it has become an unsustainable workload and I fear for their health and well-being. I kindly ask you to please be considerate of the amount of work requested from the Secretariat, especially when it relates to activities that may be outside of the Convention's core work. We are finding it more and more challenging to have the time to do the core work of the Convention, which is servicing the meetings, implementing the programme of work, and providing technical advice and support to the Parties.  

With this kind request, I close by informing you that our dear Elena Kwitsinskaia-Mayer has retired, and Ms Olga Montero is now the Documents Assistant – we are fortunate that Elena is able to accompany us these next two weeks so please wish her good luck in this new chapter of her life. Also, our dear Juan Carlos Vasquez has taken a brave step in his career and has joined UNEP in Nairobi on the 1st of July. Sofie Flensborg has been selected on a temporary appointment as Chief of the Legal Unit, congratulations to her. And, finally, we have several wonderful new interns, and you will see them working hard to support the meetings.  

I wish us good fortune, good weather, fruitful discussions and a successful meeting!  

Madame Chair, over to you and happy chairing!