At its 13th meeting (CoP13, Bangkok, 2004), the Conference of the Parties (CoP) discussed issues related to the use of computerized systems to meet obligations set out in the Convention and related Resolutions and Decisions. Some Parties expressed the view that the development of an electronic licensing system would greatly assist in the handling and processing of CITES applications, the issuance of electronic permits and the collation and dissemination of CITES trade information.

Electronic permitting was further discussed by the CoP at its 14th meeting (CoP14, The Hague, 2007), where Parties adopted Decision 14.55, extending the mandate of the Working Group on Information Technologies and Electronic Systems, and Decision 14.56 directing the Secretariat to prepare a CD-ROM and Web-based toolkit on electronic permitting systems for consideration at the 57th meeting of the Standing Committee. The toolkit on electronic permitting systems would include:

a) advice on the use of common information exchange formats, protocols and standards for use with electronic permitting systems;

b) advice on the use of electronic signatures and other electronic security measures;

c) advice on the development and implementation of interoperable information exchange pilot projects on electronic permitting systems;

d) a list of Parties willing to assist less developed countries in developing electronic permitting systems;

e) a list of Parties currently using electronic permitting systems; and

f) information on new developments in the use of electronic documents by relevant organizations.

At its 15th meeting (Doha, 2010), the CoP adopted Decision 15.54 where Parties are encouraged to use the CITES Electronic Permitting Toolkit found on the CITES website to develop or update national electronic permitting systems.

The CoP also adopted Decision 15.56 directed to the Secretariat:

a)    In collaboration with the Working Group on Information Technologies and Electronic Systems, the Secretariat shall, subject to external funding:

b)    update the CITES electronic toolkit according to new electronic permitting standards and norms;

c)    work with relevant international organizations and initiatives related to electronic permitting systems to raise awareness of CITES business procedures and permitting requirements; and

d)    organize capacity-building workshops to assist Parties in using the CITES electronic permitting toolkit to develop, implement or update electronic permitting systems.

Version 2 of the toolkit provides advice on the use of common information exchange formats, protocols and standards, advice on signatures and other electronic security measures, and information on new developments in the use of electronic documents by relevant organizations, for Parties implementing CITES electronic permitting systems, or for Parties developing and implementing interoperable information exchange pilot projects on electronic permitting systems.

The toolkit is a work in progress; it will continue to be updated with new developments related to electronic commerce and documentation and incorporate new standards and norms. It must also continue to be tightly integrated with the norms pertaining to other documentation accompanying specimens of CITES-listed species in trade.

In the planning and design phase of the toolkit, the Secretariat and the Working Group on Information Technologies and Electronic Systems were presented with three primary challenges. First, the toolkit had to be harmonized and compliant with paper-based permitting procedures, so that Parties would have the choice of using new electronic permitting systems or existing paper-based systems. Second, harmonization with international standards and norms, particularly those developed by UN/CEFACT and the WCO was necessary to allow integration with national projects establishing single-window initiatives. Last, the toolkit had to be designed with sufficient flexibility to accommodate future developments and updates to international standards and norms.

Work achieved in the drafting of the CITES electronic permitting toolkit met a need expressed by Parties that have developed or are developing electronic permitting systems.

This need refers to the lack of guidance on how to ensure interoperability among national electronic permitting systems and compliance with international standards and norms, which results in a duplication of effort and an inability to exchange electronic permit data easily and in a timely manner.

Parties can use the advice provided herein in order to exchange permit data electronically should they wish to do so.

The toolkit promotes the use of standards and norms that are needed when implementing electronic exchange procedures. At the international level, Parties can integrate CITES electronic permits in Single Window environments, thereby contributing to more efficient trade procedures.

The toolkit also represents a new level of cooperation with organizations and initiatives aiming to facilitate trade, ensuring greater security and less fraud, and harmonizing documentation in international commerce. As more Parties establish Single Windows and require electronic documentation as pre-requisites for international trade, CITES will be well poised to adapt and contribute to these new initiatives.

Moving towards CITES electronic permitting systems

An important initial implementation step in the move towards establishing an electronic permitting system is to describe the existing paper-based and/or electronic CITES data management system and the current technical environment. This is commonly called the ‘as-is’ description, and this step will help to clarify and determine the future tasks to be considered during the development and implementation of the electronic permitting systems. Describing the current CITES data management process is essential for an understanding of who is involved, how they are connected to one another, and whether the current data exchanges are paper-based, electronic or a combination of both. For example, the relationships between the Management Authority and other bodies and agencies should be documented in order to obtain a picture of who may be affected when a process undergoes a modification or major change, and after identifying all the parties involved, the specific processes relative to each can be described.

The description of the current CITES data management process should include the processes related to the exchange of data and information between CITES Parties. The type, structure and format of the data and information exchange should be detailed and may be documented as case studies, activity diagrams, or process chains. Close scrutiny should be paid to data security and legal issues, and security restrictions may be set by the Management Authorities or by higher-level government agencies, or result from past procedures and existing restrictions. Legal restrictions and requirements which may affect the way CITES data or other data is reported may be set by appropriate regulatory bodies. Technical or security related legal requirements (e.g. electronic signature requirements) may be set by national governments, regional organizations or other legal authorities, and these may have an impact on planned CITES electronic permitting systems.

The description of the ‘as-is’ situation should include a description of currently used software applications and supporting hardware. Existing software and/or hardware may be capable of supporting future technical requirements and documenting these possibilities may help with planning and budgeting.

When analysing existing e-permitting systems, it may be necessary to identify legacy-related issues such as whether there is a national legal requirement in force that mandates paper certificates or permits and, if so, can the requirement be changed and when might the change occur. Other considerations concern contractual constraints related to the currently installed software or hardware, and whether there is an internal canonical data model for CITES data. If the latter is the case, the model could be affected by any decisions to adhere to an international data model standard.

Any review of existing e-permitting systems should identify, prioritize and fully describe any current problems related to its implementation. A careful analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the current e-permitting systems should be completed, taking into account the different experiences of CITES Authorities, Customs, and commercial and private users.

After the review, it is possible to move on to developing implementation scenarios for an e-permitting system, and two steps should be considered.

Defining the proposed data exchange between CITES Authorities, and between Management Authorities and businesses (these interaction levels are often referred to as Government-to-Government (G2G) or Business-to-Government (B2G) interactions).

Defining the types of application or interface that are proposed for the exchange of data. Examples of these include Web services, electronic forms (e-forms) or file transfers exchanged directly between agencies/users or through a Web-based application.

Key decisions affecting implementation of electronic permitting systems include define the interaction level at which the system will operate (e.g. only between selected government agencies, between Management Authorities and selected commercial traders, or between Management Authorities and all users of the system), how data will be exchanged, and what kind of interface will be used[1].

The next major step in the process towards establishing an electronic permitting system is to describe the long-term objectives of the national e-permitting system, also known as the ‘to-be’ description. The topics to be considered are similar to those described in the ‘as-is’ documentation, and it is important that stakeholders are consulted actively in defining the objectives of the electronic permitting system.

The ‘to-be’ description should consider the vision and goals to be achieved, including any restrictions or requirements which will need to be addressed. These will typically be motivated by factors such as security concerns, technical issues as well as CITES requirements. The description should include any anticipated future data exchange initiatives between internal or external parties and their processes, including an indication of timeframes, such as when a data exchange initiative is to start; future developments that will or may affect the plan; and relevant technical specifications of these initiatives.

The ‘to-be’ description should consider the feasibility of converting all current paper-based processes to a fully electronic system, or to support a paper and an electronic system in parallel. For either scenario, a predicted timetable will be necessary. The conversion scenario will need to consider any requirements for supporting computer-to-computer, computer-to-human (human-to-computer) and/or human-to-human data exchange processes, as necessary. The ‘to-be’ description will also need to consider security requirements for data exchange, all known planned requirements of related partner agencies (e.g. if a Customs inspection system requires real-time access to CITES permit data via Web services) and what the anticipated impacts on CITES processes would be.

Finally, the ‘to-be’ description should estimate any benefits in terms of resource optimization or reduction of staff costs that may result from an electronic permitting system.

[1] The CITES e-permit XML schema which is presented in the toolkit (see Annex X) has been designed to support all implementation scenarios regardless of the technical interface used. However, an existing environment or the desired environment may have impacts or restrictions that will affect the implementation scenarios.