Compliance with wildlife trade rules dominates first CITES Standing Committee meeting following CoP19

Updated on 29 November 2023


Geneva, 21 November 2023Trade in precious timber and sharks and conservation of elephants, big cats, parrots, eels, marine turtles and totoaba were among the many critical matters reviewed during the 77th Meeting of the Standing Committee (SC77) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Geneva, Switzerland from 6-10 November 2023. Convened nearly a year after the Convention’s 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) in Panama City, the meeting gathered nearly 600 participants from 84 Parties, 15 international organizations, 88 non-governmental organizations, including representatives from indigenous peoples, and several representatives of the private sector. 

corner view of large conference center seating with stage and projection screen, CITES banners on stage with seated speakers
Plenary session, International Conference Center Geneva (CICG) 

The Chair of SC77 and Head of the United States CITES Management Authority, Naimah Aziz said in her opening statement: "I hope the discussions further our common goals of conserving our biodiversity while supporting legal, traceable and biologically sustainable trade in wild plants and animals... as we demonstrate that CITES, after 50 years, is robust and effective in achieving its mission now, as it was then." 

In her opening statement of the meeting, Secretary-General Higuero said: "CITES plays a pivotal role in ensuring the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife, a role that has long been acknowledged. To meet these SDG targets, however, we must redouble our efforts on national, regional, and global fronts. Sustainable development, biodiversity conservation, and the responsible utilization of biodiversity's components are all interdependent and require a united, coordinated, multilateral effort. This effort depends on us. The world looks to us with confidence in our ability to fulfill our role in addressing the triple planetary crisis." 

CITES SC77 Chair speaking on stage
Naimah Aziz, Chief of the United States CITES Management Authority and Chair of SC77 © Kiara Worth / IISD/ENB

Over the course of the five days and 77 agenda items, the Committee deliberated on a range of compliance issues, which concern the requirements for Parties to have a regulatory and control system in place to ensure that trade is legal, sustainable and traceable. Existing and new compliance cases relating to the application of Article XIII of the Convention regarding unsustainable, non-compliant or illegal trade in West African rosewood, African teak, Asian elephants, birds, and sharks, as well as the implementation of provisions related to the trade of captive-bred specimens in Appendix I.

These cases involved inter alia Cameroon, China, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, the European Union, Guinea, the People's Democratic Republic of Lao, Madagascar, Mexico, Nigeria and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Some cases involved the illegal trade of rare bird species, such as Spix’s macaw, Lear’s macaw and White-throated toucan, or illegal fishing of the totoaba further endangering the nearly extinct vaquita. 

rosewood tree photo from below
Rosewood tree © khamkula / Adobe Stock


The Committee also recognized the progress made by the Compliance Assistance Programme (CAP) which aims to provide targeted support to Parties facing persistent compliance challenges. Parties subject to compliance mechanisms were acknowledged for their commitment to participating in the CAP, with the Committee underscoring the need for additional funding to expand the programme. 

On species-specific conservation and trade matters, the Committee welcomed continued efforts by Parties to prevent and mitigate human-wildlife conflict and the risk of pathogen spillover and transmission from wildlife trade and associated supply chains. Kazakhstan received commendations from the Committee and other Parties for the remarkable results in conservation of the Saiga antelope with a significant population increase in recent years – from 21,000 individuals in 2003 to over 1.3 million in 2022. 

saiga antelope landscape
Saiga antelope © Victor Tyakht / Adobe Stock

Enforcement matters were emphasized, with the Committee stressing the importance of combating corruption and encouraging Parties to integrate financial crime investigations into wildlife-related crimes. The Secretariat introduced the online platform for the CITES Illegal Trade Database, managed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The Committee tasked the Secretariat with preparing terms of reference for the creation of a system for monitoring illegal killing of jaguars, illegal trade in their parts and derivatives, as well as other aspects related to conservation of the jaguar. 

CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero awarded the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) with the CITES Secretary-General's Certificate of Commendation in recognition of the successful operational activities undertaken by Operation LAKE. The operation focused on preventing glass eel trafficking in Europe—an industry valued at 2.5 billion EUR in which approximately 100 tonnes of eels are trafficked annually. Europol’s Executive Deputy Director of Operations, Mr. Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, who received the award on behalf of Europol, advocated for the creation of law enforcement agencies with units dedicated to environmental crime and commended Italy, Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia for taking such initiative. 

Pursuant to instructions from CITES CoP19 on the trade in live African elephants (Loxodonta africana), the Committee also agreed to call for the Dialogue meeting for African elephant range States. The Committee members unanimously agreed on the meeting agenda and welcomed the offer of Botswana to host the meeting in 2024. The meeting will gather African elephant range States to discuss the harmonization of the conditions to trade in live African elephants and to address other salient issues of elephant conservation. 

Singapore youth delegate Steffi Tan speaks to CITES Standing Committee
Steffi Tan, Singapore © Kiara Worth / IISD/ENB

With this year marking the CITES' 50th anniversary since its adoption in 1973 in Washington D.C., the commitment to partnerships was marked with dynamic exchanges between CITES, institutional partners, NGOs and other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs).

A noteworthy initiative was announced on the first day of the meeting, with the Committee applauding Singapore's endeavour to establish the CITES Global Youth Network (CGYN). Parties and observers were encouraged to nominate youths affiliated with their organizations to participate in the CITES Youth Leadership Programme to take place in 2024. This network, once launched, will be the first of its kind in CITES' 50-year history and will provide young people with a platform to actively engage in CITES events and processes. 

Singapore Youth Delegate and CGYN Co-founder, Steffi Tan, said: "As a 23-year-old who is passionate for species conservation, I envision a future where stakeholders including governments, businesses and local communities work together in harmony with nature for the betterment of people and wildlife. With the establishment of the CITES Global Youth Network and through the global youth summits, I am hopeful that my peers and I will not only understand CITES better, but also build the friendships and partnerships that are necessary to help us work together and realize this future of sustainable development and conservation." 

CBD Acting Exec Secretary David Cooper speaking at CITE SC77
David Cooper, Acting Executive Secretary-General of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) © Kiara Worth / IISD/ENB

On the alignment between the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (KMGBF) and the CITES Strategic Vision, Acting Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), David Cooper noted the interlinkages relating to sustainable use, human-wildlife conflict, finance, data, indigenous and local communities, women and youth, and said: "In its requirements for Non-detriment Findings (NDFs) and Legal Acquisition Findings (LAFs), CITES provides important tools and experience to support Target 5 of the Framework, requiring the harvesting, trade and use of wild species to be sustainable, safe and legal." 

The 78th Meeting of the CITES Standing Committee will take place from 3-8 February 2025 in Geneva, Switzerland.




Editor's Notes:

For media enquiries, please contact [email protected].   



The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on 1 July 1975. With 184 Parties (183 countries + the European Union), it remains one of the world's most powerful tools for wildlife conservation through the regulation of international trade in over 40,900 species of wild animals and plants. CITES-listed species are used by people around the world in their daily lives for food, health care, furniture, housing, tourist souvenirs, cosmetics or fashion. CITES seeks to ensure that international trade in such species is sustainable, legal and traceable and contributes to both the livelihoods of the communities that live closest to them and to national economies for a healthy planet and the prosperity of the people in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Follow CITES on social media:

Find out more: