CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Widespread information nowadays about the endangered status of many prominent species, such as the tiger and elephants, might make the need for such a convention seem obvious. But at the time when the ideas for CITES were first formed, in the 1960s, international discussion of the regulation of wildlife trade for conservation purposes was something relatively new. With hindsight, the need for CITES is clear. Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens. The trade is diverse, ranging from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future.
Because the trade in wild animals and plants crosses borders between countries, the effort to regulate it requires international cooperation to safeguard certain species from over-exploitation. CITES was conceived in the spirit of such cooperation. Today, it accords varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants, whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs.
CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). The text of the Convention was finally agreed at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington DC., United States of America, on 3 March 1973, and on 1 July 1975 CITES entered in force.
CITES is an international agreement to which States (countries) adhere voluntarily. States that have agreed to be bound by the Convention (‘joined’ CITES) are known as Parties. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties – in other words they have to implement the Convention – it does not take the place of national laws. Rather it provides a framework to be respected by each Party, which has to adopt its own domestic legislation to make sure that CITES is implemented at the national level.
Not one species protected by CITES has become extinct as a result of trade since the Convention entered into force and, for many years, CITES has been among the largest conservation agreements in existence, with now over 150 Parties.
How CITES work?
CITES works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. These require that all import, export, re-export and introduction from the sea of species covered by the Convention has to be authorized through a licensing system. (‘Re-export’ means export of a specimen that was imported.)
The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, according to the degree of protection they need.
Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.
Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival.
Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country, which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade.
Each Party to the Convention must designate one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering the licensing system and one or more Scientific Authorities to advise them on the effects of trade on the status of the species.
A specimen of a CITES-listed species may be imported into or exported (or re-exported) from a State party to the Convention only if the appropriate document has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit. There is some variation of the requirements from one country to another and it is always necessary to check on the national laws, but the main conditions that apply for each Appendix are described below.
An import permit issued by the Management Authority of the State of import is required. This may be issued only if the specimen is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes and if the import will be for purposes that are not detrimental to the survival of the species. In the case of a live animal or plant, the Scientific Authority must be satisfied that the proposed recipient is suitably equipped to house and care for it.
An export permit or re-export certificate issued by the Management Authority of the State of export or re-export is also required.
An export permit may be issued only if the specimen was legally obtained; the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species; and an import permit has already been issued. A re-export certificate may be issued only if the specimen was imported in accordance with the provisions of the Convention and, in the case of a live animal or plant, if an import permit has been issued.
In the case of a live animal or plant, it must be prepared and shipped to minimize any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.
An export permit or re-export certificate issued by the Management Authority of the State of export or re-export is required.
An export permit may be issued only if the specimen was legally obtained and if the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.
A re-export certificate may be issued only if the specimen was imported in accordance with the Convention.
In the case of a live animal or plant, it must be prepared and shipped to minimize any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.
No import permit is needed unless required by national law.
In the case of specimens introduced from the sea, a certificate has to be issued by the Management Authority of the State into which the specimens are being brought, for species listed in Appendix I or II.
In the case of trade from a State that included the species in Appendix III, an export permit issued by the Management Authority of that State is required. This may be issued only if the specimen was legally obtained and, in the case of a live animal or plant, if it will be prepared and shipped to minimize any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.
In the case of export from any other State, a certificate of origin issued by its Management Authority is required.
In the case of re-export, a re-export certificate issued by the State of re-export is required
The Convention allows or requires Parties to make certain exceptions to the general principles described above, notably in the following cases:
- for specimens in transit or being transhipped;
- for specimens that were acquired before CITES provisions applied to them (known as pre-Convention specimens);
- for specimens that are personal or household effects;
- for animals that were bred in captivity
- for plants that were artificially propagated
- for specimens that are destined for scientific research;
- for animals or plants forming part of a travelling collection or exhibition, such as a circus.
There are special rules in these cases and a permit or certificate will generally still be required. Anyone planning to import or export/re-export specimens of a CITES species should contact the national CITES Management Authorities of the countries of import and export/re-export for information on the rules that apply.
Some Parties have domestic legislation with trade controls stricter than those required by CITES. In these cases, compliance with CITES regulations may not be sufficient to ensure that trade is legal.
When a specimen of a CITES-listed species is transferred between a country that is a Party to CITES and a country that is not, the country that is a Party may accept documentation equivalent to the permits and certificates described above.
The Secretariat of CITES has a pivotal role, fundamental to the Convention and its functions are:
- to play a coordinating, advisory and servicing role in the working of the Convention;
- to act as the repository for the reports, sample permits and other information submitted by the Parties;
- to distribute information relevant to several or all Parties, for example, proposals to amend the Appendices, sample permits, information about enforcement problems, national legislation, or news of a new Party;
- to issue new editions of Appendices I, II and III, whenever there is a change, and information to assist identification of species listed in the Appendices;
- to undertake, under agreed programmes, occasional scientific and technical studies into issues affecting the implementation of the Convention;
- to prepare annual reports to the Parties on its own work and on the implementation of the Convention;
- to arrange meetings of the Conference of the Parties and of the permanent Committees at regular intervals and
- to service those meetings;
- to make recommendations regarding the implementation of the Convention; and
- to perform any function entrusted to it by the Parties.
Information is distributed to the Parties by the Secretariat, for example in the form of Notifications, generally in the three working languages of the Convention (English, French and Spanish).
Conference of the Parties
The Parties (member States) to CITES are collectively referred to as the Conference of the Parties. Every two to three years, the Conference of the Parties meets to review the implementation of the Convention. These meetings last for about two weeks and are usually hosted by one of the Parties. The meetings are often referred to as CoPs. They provide the occasion for the Parties to:
review progress in the conservation of species included in the Appendices;
consider (and where appropriate adopt) proposals to amend the lists of species in Appendices I and II;
consider discussion documents and reports from the Secretariat, Parties, permanent committees or other working groups;
recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of the Convention; and
make provisions (including the adoption of a budget) necessary to allow the Secretariat to function effectively.
On a more informal level, the meetings provide an opportunity for participants to make or renew relationships and to discuss problems and successes. Meetings of the Conference of the Parties are attended not only by delegations representing CITES Parties but also by observers. These include representatives of States that are not party to CITES, of United Nations agencies and of other international Conventions. Observers from non-governmental organizations involved in conservation or trade are also allowed to participate at the discretion of the Parties. Although they may participate in the meeting, they have no vote. Members of the public may also attend as visitors, although they are not able to participate in the discussions.
In order to facilitate the work of the Conference of the Parties and to keep that work going between meetings, the Conference has established four permanent committees that report to it at each meeting. These are the Standing Committee (which is the senior committee), the Animals Committee, the Plants Committee and the Nomenclature Committee. Information about their membership and terms of reference can be found in Resolution.
The Standing Committee provides policy guidance to the Secretariat concerning the implementation of the Convention and oversees the management of the Secretariat’s budget. Beyond these key roles, it coordinates and oversees, where required, the work of other committees and working groups; carries out tasks given to it by the Conference of the Parties, drafts resolutions for consideration by the Conference of the Parties. Major issues recently addressed by the Standing Committee have included: the follow-up to the decisions to re-open, in a limited way, commercial trade in elephant specimens, including the adoption of formal monitoring systems to track illegal elephant hunting and trade; tiger conservation and trade; compliance problems in some Parties; and the development of the Strategic Plan of the Convention.
The members of the Standing Committee are countries. The voting members are Parties representing each of the six major geographical regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, and Oceania), with the number of representatives weighted according to the number of Parties within the region. Additionally, the Standing Committee includes a representative from:
- the Depositary Government (Switzerland);
- the Party that hosted the previous meeting of the Conference of the Parties; and
- the Party that will host the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties.
The membership of the Standing Committee is reviewed at every regular meeting of the Conference of the Parties.
The members representing the regions elect the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Committee. All Parties that are not members of the Standing Committee have the right to send observers to its meetings. In addition, the Chairman may invite observers from any country or organization.
Usually the Standing Committee meets only once a year, although it does also meet just before each meeting of the Conference of the Parties. At its meetings, the Chairman often makes provision for representatives of non-governmental organizations to exchange views with members of the Committee on matters of concern, outside of the formal sessions of the Committee.
The Animals and Plants Committees
These committees of experts were established to fill gaps in biological and other specialized knowledge regarding species of animals and plants that are (or might become) subject to CITES trade controls. Their role is to provide technical support to decision-making about these species. These two Committees have similar terms of reference:
undertaking periodic reviews of species, in order to ensure appropriate categorization in the CITES Appendices;
advising when certain species are subject to unsustainable trade and recommending remedial action (through what is known as the “Review of Significant Trade”);
drafting resolutions on animal and plant matters for consideration by the Parties; and
performing other functions entrusted to them by the Parties or the Standing Committee.
The Animals and Plants Committees generally meet once a year. They report to the Conference of the Parties at its meetings and, if so requested, provide advice to the Standing Committee between such meetings.
The members of the Animals and Plants Committees are individuals from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South and Central America and the Caribbean, and Oceania. They are elected at the meetings of the Conference of the Parties, with the number of representatives weighted according to the number of Parties within each region and according to the regional distribution of biodiversity. As in the Standing Committee, there is an elected alternate member for each of the six regions who represents the region at meetings when the relevant member is unable to attend. A Chairman and Vice-Chairman are elected by the regional members of the committees. Any Party may be represented at a meeting of either committee as an observer and the Chairman may invite organizations to participate also as observers.
One of the tasks of the Animals Committee and the Plants Committee (contained in Annex 2 to Resolution Conf. 11.1) is the preparation of regional directories for each of the six CITES regions. These directories list, for eachParty the botanists and zoologists who are experts in CITES-listed species, as well as other details of the Management and Scientific Authorities.
The Nomenclature Committee
The Nomenclature Committee was established in recognition of the need to standardize the nomenclature used in the Appendices and in other CITES documents. The Committee recommends standard names for animal or plants species, to the level of subspecies or botanical variety. The Appendices are reviewed routinely to ensure correct use of zoological and botanical nomenclature, and other documents are reviewed by the Committee on request. New or updated names are proposed to the Conference of the Parties for adoption. An important aspect of the work of the Nomenclature Committee is to verify that changes in the names used to refer to species do not cause changes in the scope of protection of the taxon concerned.
Membership of the Nomenclature Committee is voluntary. It comprises one zoologist and one botanist appointed by the Conference of the Parties, who work with other experts to fulfil the Committee’s role. The Nomenclature Committee informs the Animals and Plants Committees of its progress at each of their meetings and reports at each meeting of the Conference of the Parties.
Roughly 5,000 species of animals and 25,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade. They are listed in the three CITES Appendices. The species are grouped in the Appendices according to how threatened they are by international trade. They include some whole groups, such as primates, cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), sea turtles, parrots, corals, cacti and orchids. But in some cases only a subspecies or geographically separate population of a species (for example the population of just one country) is listed.
Any type of wild plant or animal may be included in the list of species protected by CITES and the range of wildlife species included in the Appendices extends from leeches to lions and from pine trees to pitcher plants. While the more charismatic creatures, such as bears and whales, may be the better known examples of CITES species, the most numerous groups include many less popularized plants and animals, such as aloes, corals, mussels and frogs.
(Source: http://www.cites.org – Please visit CITES Web site for updated information. This extract is overview only.)