Secretary-General's speech to WTO’s 3rd Trade and Environment Week

Updated on 16 November 2022

High-Level Panel on Multilateral Trade and Environment Secretary-General, Ivonne Higuero, speaking at the WTOCooperation:
Answering Crisis and Furthering Resilience

Remarks of CITES Secretary-General, Ms Ivonne Higuero

Geneva, 17 October 2022

It is my pleasure to be part of this high-level panel discussion which kicks off the WTO’s 3rd Trade and Environment Week.

In our less modest moments, CITES might think of itself as one of the poster children for a conference on trade, the environment and sustainability. Next year will mark our 50th year of work to regulate the international trade in endangered wild plants and animals. The Convention, which is one of the earliest among Multilateral Environmental Agreements and came into force in 1975, regulates international trade in nearly 40,000 species of plants and animals. The goal of the CITES permit system is to ensure that international trade in listed species is sustainable, legal and traceable.

CITES Parties adopted a resolution, by consensus, that says “where economic value can be attached to wildlife and a controlled management system is implemented, favourable conditions can be created for investment in the conservation and the sustainable use of the resource, thus reducing the risks to wildlife from alternative forms of land use.” In other words, well managed trade in wildlife can further resilience of both our ecosystem and local populations.

Today, the 8 billion people on our planet are consuming millions of products in their daily lives that are derived from wild animals and plants, often without being aware of our relation and interdependency with nature and its web of life. These species, some of which are regulated by CITES, include fish and other marine species as well as many plant species. I like to highlight that of all the species of wild animals and plants regulated by CITES, which includes high value timber and commercial marine species, the vast majority of them are plants.

What may also come as a surprise is that CITES allows commercial international trade in over 97% of the species that are included in its Appendices, provided that all relevant rules are respected. More than a million CITES permits are issued every year and no trade is authorized if it might threaten the viability of the species. This is sustainability. This is what will allow us to continue to trade in these natural products that underpin human well-being.

The achievement of sustainable, legal and traceable use of wildlife is in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the CITES Vision aims to bring it about by 2030 – so the pressure’s on… but then again, the pressure is on all of us here. Biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution are the three planetary issues that we must face down if we are to leave a healthy planet for generations to come.

Over the next six weeks there are a series of meetings that will determine the path we will take. The UN Climate Change and the Ramsar Convention Conferences will be followed by the CITES’ World Wildlife Conference, which in turn is followed by the Biodiversity Conference. We are in constant touch with our UN colleagues – and non-UN colleagues - as we recognize that none of these challenges can be tackled in isolation. The natural world is integral to our response to climate change and we have to keep climate change in check to allow biodiversity to bounce back.

At the end of last week, a major report was published by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London that showed that some populations of animals have dropped by around 70% in the past 50 years. Let’s be clear: these numbers cannot be sustained; we are in a time of crisis and we either act now or a different kind of action will be forced upon us just a little way down the road.

Of course, partnerships and collaboration are the way out of crisis. We are pleased to work in partnership with the WTO, and others, and most recently this has given us the pilot edition of the World Wildlife Trade Report, which will be available just before the start of our CoP19. This pilot Report is a first attempt to provide as comprehensive an overview of wildlife trade as possible from all angles. It considers the routes, scale and patterns of international trade in CITES-listed species, together with the values, conservation impacts and socio-economic benefits of such trade as well as the linkages between legal and illegal trade.

Over the past years, we have gathered case studies from around the world that demonstrate the benefits of legal and sustainable trade in CITES-listed species to livelihoods and conservation of species and habitats. This report has more evidence on how legal trade benefits local and national economies and should motivate greater investment, especially by the private sector and industry, in conservation to stop overexploitation, avoid land conversion and enhance resilience.

Answering crisis and furthering resilience is about having evidence-based regulations in place that we must enforce. As Secretary-General of CITES, I know that Parties are taking the tough decisions to address the crises that we face; but without effective implementation we will fail. We need to work with others to have the breadth of impact necessary to respond to the scale of the challenges. We welcome this week’s meeting and the actions that will and must come from it. Human progress was built on trade but it is not enough to look just to the past, we must work together on a new model for the future – one that has sustainability at its heart and leaves our communities, our nations and our world stronger and more resilient as a result.

Thank you.