CITES and electronic commerce
New Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are impacting on the evolution of CITES in many significant ways, and Parties have been turning their attention to their growing importance. They recognize that they will face difficulties meeting obligations under CITES if they lack adequate access to the Internet and other new communication tools.
Some Parties are already using new technologies to optimize administrative trade procedures, facilitate legal trade and harmonize CITES permit and certificate issuance procedures with new international norms and standards. The advent of CITES electronic permitting and the single window environment illustrate these trends well (1).
Second, there is much discussion by Parties on the use of new ICTs to bypass older Internet-based technologies. New hand-held and palm devices, netbooks, and electronic books and tablets offer a number of innovative ways to communicate with Parties and regions with poor Internet connectivity. Mobile phones, for example, are widely used in Africa and offer the means for Parties in that region to receive, send and access CITES-related information. The possibility of using mobile phone technologies to assist with capacity-building activities also shows much promise (2).
More controversial, however, has been the rapid growth in the use of the Internet, particularly Web-based systems, to conduct trade in specimens of CITES-listed species. Indeed, reports claiming that the Internet is increasingly used to conduct illegal trade in wildlife have gained wide coverage in the media and are often cited to justify efforts to prohibit electronic commerce in certain categories of CITES-listed species.
The Secretariat acknowledges that publications that are not peer-reviewed play an important role in raising awareness about potential problems associated with the electronic facilitation of trade in wildlife. However, it also believes that policy decisions regarding such trade should be based on rigorous and scientific data. To date, the Secretariat is not aware of scientific literature identifying correlations between the use of the Internet and the rate of illegal trade in wildlife. It believes, therefore, that decisions related to the Internet and trade in CITES-listed species should be guided by caution and a healthy dose of scepticism. The recent furore caused by the use of non-scientific literature by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report illustrates how crucial this is (3).
The Secretariat is also of the opinion that new ICTs facilitate legal trade in specimens of CITES-listed species. In this regard, it is noteworthy that the European Parliament referred in its resolution of 5 February 2009 on International Trade and the Internet to “the beneficial influence of the Internet over the different factors and stages in cross-border and international trading of goods and services during the last two decades”(4).
The Secretariat further concurs with the view expressed in the same resolution that actions to prevent illegal activities on the Internet should not hinder the growth of CITES-related electronic trade. Indeed, the resolution stresses “the need to create mechanisms for the adoption and strengthening of the necessary and appropriate enforcement measures and of more effective and concerted coordination, which will permit the combating and elimination of existing illegal online commercial behaviour especially with regard to cases liable to involve major public health risks, such as bogus medicines, without affecting the development of international e-commerce”.
This issue of CITES World, therefore, offers a forum to United Nations organizations, Parties and non-governmental organizations that have been studying the impact of the Internet on the rate of illegal trade in wildlife. This collection of articles should give Parties insights into many of the issues surrounding use of new ICTs and trade in CITES-listed species, and assist in discussions at the upcoming 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP15, Doha, 13-25 March 2010).
The first article by Mr Trevor Salmon, Chair of the Standing Committee Working Group on E-commerce of Specimens of CITES-Listed Species, offers a synopsis of the issues faced by members of the Working Group during the intersessional period and some thoughts on future action. This article should be of special interest to Parties as the issues discussed by Working Group members will most likely be examined at CoP15.
In the second article, China presents a summary of actions at the national level to combat illegal trade in wildlife. Given that China is now the Party with the largest number of Internet users, this article presents a number of directions Parties can follow to understand and use more effectively a medium as dynamic as the Internet.
Using the Internet to combat illegal trade in CITES-listed species is the topic of the third article, submitted by the United States. Parties developing enforcement measures to deal with illegal Internet-based activities may be interested in how the US Fish and Wildlife uses Internet technologies in its intelligence gathering and investigations.
The Secretariat has also sought the experience of other United Nations organizations with experience in dealing with illegal trade and the Internet. In this regard, UNESCO submitted the fourth article describing its response to the illegal trafficking of cultural goods on the Internet. Of particular interest to Parties is UNESCO’s description of partnerships with INTERPOL and eBay to discourage such activities.
The sixth and seventh articles are by TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the non-governmental organizations most responsible for raising public awareness on the use of the Internet and illegal trade in CITES-listed species. In fact, most Google or Bing searches on the links between the Internet and the rate of illegal wildlife trade will retrieve primarily citations of or news items about their publications.
The Secretariat believes that the findings of these articles lead to several conclusions. First, there is an urgent need for scientific, peer-reviewed articles to confirm or refute the claims that the Internet fosters illegal wildlife trade. Parties need this information to understand the scope of the problem and to make decisions. Second, efforts to combat this type of illegal trade should not be made to the detriment of legal trade. Third, effective partnership among Parties, other organizations and enforcement agencies is absolutely essential in the effective development and implementation of policies to ensure legal trade and to discourage illegal activities on the Internet. Last, electronic commerce is bound to continue its rapid and exponential growth, creating new challenges and opportunities for Parties and enforcement agencies, particularly in the use of new ICTs, to encourage legal trade. Enhancing national capacities to benefit from these developments, therefore, must become a priority.
The Secretariat looks forward to discussions on the above topics at CoP15.
Senior Capacity Building Officer
E-mail: marcos.silva @ cites.org