CITES-FAO project on improved forest governance in the Lower Mekong Region


A hotspot for biodiversity, the Lower Mekong Region (LMR) is home to around 100 CITES-listed tree species of high commercial trade value. These include timber species of rosewoods of the genus Dalbergia, yew trees of genus Taxus and agarwood of the genus Aquilaria

Compliance with CITES trade regulations plays a key role in reducing illegal forest trade and improving forest governance. 

From 2021 to 2023, the Secretariat and the FAO undertook a project titled “Support to the implementation of the UN-REDD Initiative for Sustainable Forest Trade in the Lower Mekong project, with a focus on trade in CITES-listed timber species” (SFT-LMR-CITES). 

Its aim? To strengthen the implementation of CITES’ regulations in LMR Parties including Cambodia, China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The project is a testimony to CITES and FAO’s shared commitment to enhance the implementation of global forest-relevant mandates and contribute effectively to global forest policies and initiatives.

The project was funded by Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI) and finalized on 28 February 2023. Its main outcomes are displayed below.

Resolutions and Decisions

Timber ID Resource
Identification of CITES tree species in trade

On 9 November 2022, the Secretariat launched the online platform on “Timber Identification Resources and Tools”.

It is the first such tool of its kind and is made up of: manuals, databases, mobile apps, multimedia and infographics and a host of other useful resources. 

The repository consists of close to 100 resources relevant to the identification of CITES-listed tree species, and over time, it will be polished and varnished by the feedback and experiences of Parties in the measure they use it. 

The timber identification repository is relevant not only for CITES Parties of the Lower Mekong Region, but a platform that will prove useful to all CITES Parties, and in particular Enforcement Officers, Customs Authorities, and Scientific Authorities.

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Sustainability of CITES rosewoods in Laos

Rosewood tree species (genus Dalbergia) genus have historically been prized by the region for their timber. 

Since 2018, all commercial exports of two species of rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis and Dalbergia oliveri) from Lao PDR (People s Democratic Republic) has been suspended, and the country is undergoing a compliance process under Article XIII due to concerns relating to the sustainability of their trade. 

The Secretariat supported FAO in implementing an agreement with Laos’ National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute (NAFRI) on “Developing CITES non-detriment findings for rosewoods in Lao PDR” signed on August 2022. The agreement was designed to address the ongoing recommendations to Lao PDR on Dalbergia under the Article XIII compliance process. 

NAFRI has now completed the update and mapping of the distribution of Dalbergia cochinchinensis and Dalbergia oliveri in Central and Southern provinces of the country, as well as a draft verification report of the status quo of rosewood species of the genus Dalbergia

Based on the preliminary findings of the study, and in line with the precautionary approach, Lao PDR has requested the Secretariat to publish a zero-export quota for wild (source code W), artificially propagated (source code A) and assisted production (source code Y) specimens of Dalbergia for the years 2022 and 2023 on the website.

The latest report by the Secretariat on this Article XIII case was considered by the Standing Committee at its 75th meeting (SC75, Panama City, 13 November 2022) through document SC75 Doc. 7.2.2.

Legal Acquisition Findings (LAF) for tree species

Verifying the origin and legality of CITES listed timber species is at the core of the CITES trade processes. This is done in each country by national CITES Management Authorities assessing exports containing CITES species and issuing what is called a Legal Acquisition Finding (LAF) when an export consignment is found to be satisfactory.

For countries in the LMR, the maturity of LAF processes have much to do with the robustness of the country’s legal framework, trade regulations, the volume of trade and industry.

From 18-19 May 2021 the CITES Secretariat organized an “Online workshop on Legal Acquisition Findings in CITES tree species from the Lower Mekong Region”.

The workshop provided a space for experience-sharing within the LMR, as well as those of other broader regional countries including Singapore and China.

This helped to inform and mutually build understanding and capacity for the remaining LMR countries of Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar.

Over 100 representatives from Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam took active part in the workshop, as well as representatives of FAO, the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), and members of international NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the private sector and academia.

Find out more about the LAF workshop here

eCITES permitting in the Lower Mekong Region

Once export consignments successfully undergo verification and assessment by the national CITES Management Authorities, they are issued a CITES permit.

Automating CITES permit management can prove crucial in time-efficiency and in the traceability of trade of CITES-listed species. This is why e-permitting, while not a requirement of the CITES trade processes, is encouraged for countries that have sizeable trade in CITES listed species.

On 25 May 2021 the CITES Secretariat organized an online “Workshop on Automated CITES permit management for the Lower Mekong Region”, where LMR countries were introduced to the benefits and requirements for using the automated permitting systems.

This training provided an opportunity to explore interest within the region in implementing national eCITES solutions.

Following the online seminar, Cambodia expressed interest in introducing eCITES solutions, and was identified as a candidate for the undertaking a feasibility study.

Find out more about the [email protected] base solution here.

Scoping eCITES in Cambodia

Following the eCITES online seminar, the Secretariat supported FAO in reaching an agreement with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) towards the development of a feasibility study for the implementation in Cambodia of an electronic system for the issuance, control, and management of CITES permits and certificates.           

A feasibility study was conducted by the UNCTAD Automate System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) in Cambodia in consultation with the CITES Management and Scientific Authorities, enforcement authorities, other governmental institutions and FAO. 

The study reviewed the current CITES procedures and processes for permit issuance, control, management, recording, reporting. It assessed options for the partial or full eCITES implementation including the implementation of the ASYCUDA eCITES module.

The latest draft report identified two alternatives – implementation of an electronic permit system for CITES and non-CITES species, based on the comments from some of the stakeholders. However, the decision to include non-CITES species should be further explored with the authorities in Cambodia as well as with potential donors for funding eCITES implementation.

Physical inspection of timber shipments

From 25 to 29 October 2021 the Secretariat organized an online regional on the physical inspection of timber shipments. 

The workshop contributed to and facilitated increased knowledge of CITES regulations relevant for physical inspections; improved detection of illegal consignments using risk management and risk-profiling and strengthened cross-border cooperation including exchange of information. 

Resource people from INTERPOL and UNEP-WCMC were among the trainers providing theoretical and hands-on capacity building. 

Participants from the LMR exchanged experiences and sought advice from other participants including from Singapore and China about how investigations are coordinated across the different law-enforcement agencies, communication and intelligence sharing with across borders, and resources and equipment used for correctly identifying tree species. 

Find out more about the online regional workshop on physical inspection of timber shipments here.

The project takes the spotlight!

On 15 November 2022, in the margins of the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP19, Panama City), the CITES Secretariat organized a side-event on CITES and forests, which showcased outcomes of the SFT-LMR CITES project.  

The launch of the CITES repository on timber identification was announced on 9 November 2022. Check out the press release here.

The SFT-LMR-CITES project was featured in the UN-REDD 2021 stories on its initiative in the region. More information available here.

About the partnership

The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD) supports countries to reduce the likelihood of forest crime by strengthening forest and land use governance.

The UN-REDD initiative “Sustainable Forest trade in the Lower Mekong Region” supports countries in the Lower Mekong Basin and China to strengthen their forest governance and to ensure that trading of wood products is legal and sustainableThe Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is the lead UN-REDD agency in the implementation of this initiative.