The 66th session of the Standing Committee of CITES holds this week in Geneva, Switzerland in the bid to to take vital decisions on the world’s wildlife trade policy and to find solutions to tackle illicit wildlife trafficking. The Committee will review progress made in preparing and implementing National Ivory Action Plans, domestic legislation, and additional measures to protect Asian big cats, cheetahs, African grey parrots, pangolins, rhinos, sharks and timber
Close to 500 participants from across the globe including Nigeria are attending the 66th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC66) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the world’s wildlife trade regulator since 1975. The gathering seeks to tackle crucial wildlife conservation and management issues affecting the survival of a myriad of wild plants and animals.
Among the high priority issues on the agenda for the meeting are the illegal killing of elephants for their ivory and rhinos for their horns and the illegal trade in Asian big cats, pangolins and various high value timber species, including rosewood. SC66 will also address the adequacy of national legislation to implement CITES in 17 priority countries and the lack of submission of annual reports of trade, including whether compliance measures may be necessary. A review of significant volumes of trade in selected species will also be considered by SC66 together with recommendations to ensure the trade in the species concerned is at sustainable level.
The Committee will finalise its recommendations to the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) – the triennial World Wildlife Conference, which will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 24 September to 5 October 2016 at which the 181 Parties to CITES will take critical decisions on wildlife trade policy and the scope of regulatory control over international trade in specific species.
Secretary-General of CITES, Mr John E. Scanlon, said: “Tackling illicit wildlife trafficking has risen to the top of the political agenda and a global collective effort is underway to reverse the disturbing trends affecting elephants, rhinos, pangolins, rosewood and other species. 2016 will be a critical year for reviewing the on-ground impacts of our collective endevours, further strengthening policies, budgets, laws and enforcement, as well as enhancing measures to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products, which will all come together at CITES CoP17 in Johannesburg in just 256 days from now.”
“At the same time, we are seeing scaled up efforts to improve legal and sustainable trade, such as through CITES Parties’ concerted efforts to implement CITES listings of sharks.” added Scanlon.
Compliance measures: possible recommendations to suspend trade
During the course of the week, the Standing Committee will consider compliance measures, including recommendations to suspend trade, which will affect a number of Parties. These include:
- Seven countries may be subject to a recommendation to suspend trade in all CITES-listed species for failing to make sufficient progress in preparing and adopting national legislation to implement and enforce CITES.
- 20 species – and country specific trade suspensions will be discussed resulting from the ongoing Review of Significant Trade process, which assesses whether the levels of trade that Parties allow for certain wild animals or plants are sustainable. These range from monkeys and pythons from Laos and chameleons from Benin, Cameroon and Ghana, to giant clams from Solomon Islands and corals from Fiji.
- the suspension of trade in some high-value timber species from Madagascar: 48 species of Dalbergia (5 rosewoods and 43 palisanders) and 233 species of Diospyros (ebonys)] in consideration of the continued illegal logging and illegal exports.
- the suspension of commercial trade in Psittacus erithacus (African grey parrots) from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
- Some countries may be subject to potential compliance measures for not submitting annual reports on trade in CITES-listed species.
The issue of corruption will be a matter of discussion at SC66. A number of CITES-listed species are high-value items targeted by organized crime groups, and this makes the officers responsible for regulating trade in specimens of these species potentially vulnerable to corruption. It is becoming increasingly important for CITES Parties to ensure that adequate measures are in place to identify, prevent and address corruption in line with the UN Convention against Corruption.
The changing pattern of international trade from wild to non-wild sources
The proportion of CITES-listed animal species in international trade that are reported as having been bred in captivity, born in captivity or ranched has been steadily increasing over many years. For commercial trade in live animals, it accounted for over half of all reported trade during the period 2000-2012. A similar trend appears to be evident in plant specimens that have been artificially propagated. This trend is expected to continue, particularly if demand for animals and plants remains the same, or increases, with supplies from the wild being increasingly difficult to obtain. However, the impact of this change on the conservation and sustainable use of the species concerned is poorly known and deserves closer analysis.
Declaring specimens as captive bred or artificially propagated has also been used to launder animals and plants illegally sourced from the wild. Delegates will consider proposals for CoP17 designed to improve the implementation of the Convention in relation to specimens of non-wild source.
Strategic Programme of ICCWC
The International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) will unveil this week a series of documents and programmes and highlight five years of achievements in combating wildlife crime.
The level of elephant poaching in Africa has declined somewhat since the peak reached 2011, but remains at unsustainably high levels. This trend appears to correlate with population declines in parts of the continent.
The meeting will discuss the progress made in the preparation and implementation of National Ivory Action Plans (NIAPs) by 19 countries (8 Parties of “primary concern”, 8 Parties of “secondary concern” and 3 Parties of “importance to watch”) identified as most heavily implicated in the illegal trade in ivory including source, transit and destination States. This is a major concrete effort initiated by CITES to address the surge in elephant poaching and the illegal trade in elephant ivory, which has proven to be a successful approach to address a complicated issue
Despite considerable efforts to combat rhinoceros poaching and rhinoceros horn trafficking, the number of rhinoceroses killed illegally remains at alarmingly high levels year after year. The activities conducted by key countries will be discussed at SC66. The high value of rhinoceros horn makes it a lucrative and attractive commodity for transnational organized crime groups. It is increasingly important for authorities to deploy the same tools and techniques used to combat other serious domestic and transnational organized crimes such as drugs and arms trafficking, to combat wildlife crime, including rhino poaching and illegal rhino horn trade, targeting those individuals managing and organizing these illegal activities.
Parties will be invited to consider strengthening cooperation at all levels, not only among range States, but also with transit and destination countries, to reduce the current levels of illegal trade in these valuable species to the minimum possible. Also, the Secretariat is proposing to continue strengthening capacities worldwide to implement CITES for rosewood, palisanders and ebonies for the next three years after the upcoming CITES CoP17.
Asian big cats
Trafficking in Asian big cats continues to be detected, and further strengthened enforcement efforts are therefore vital to combat illegal trafficking and implementation of existing management practices and controls, to prevent animals coming from captive breeding facilities from entering illegal trade. The Secretariat and the inter-sessional working group on Asian big cats will report on the implementation of a set of decisions and recommendations on Asian big cats adopted at CoP16 and at SC65. Good practices will be highlighted, such as a transnational intelligence-led Operation PAWS II (Protection of Asian Wildlife Species II) initiated by INTERPOL, and India’s legislative framework to prevent Asian big cat parts and derivatives from entering into illegal trade and to manage disposal of specimens from Asian big cats. A set of draft decisions and recommendations to CoP17 will be considered by the Committee, including enforcement measures to disrupt and dismantle the criminal groups involved in trafficking in Asian big cat specimens, the impacts of domestic and international trade in Asian big cat specimens on wild population, captive breeding of Asian big cats and stockpile management.
The first comprehensive study of the global legal and illegal trade in cheetahs, presented to SC65, identified illegal trade as one of the main challenges facing cheetah, a CITES Appendix I species since 1975. Eastern Africa is the region with the highest recorded levels of illegal trafficking in live cheetahs, with the Gulf States being the primary destination. The Standing Committee working group on cheetah has gathered further information from 33 Parties and convened a cheetah workshop in Kuwait in November 2015. Public awareness, enhanced cooperation in law enforcement between East Africa and the Middle East, cooperation on the disposal of confiscated live cheetahs and development of capacity building tools are identified as main solutions to address the issues. The working group is proposing a set of recommendations and draft decisions to CoP17.
Export of Grey parrots from DRC
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is currently the range State with the largest volume of exports of wild-sourced grey parrots. According to trade records reported by importing countries, DRC has exceeded the annual export quota for various consecutive years. There are no recent scientific studies on the status of the DRC populations of grey parrot, which can provide a science base for the establishment of quotas. There are however suggestions that the populations are declining. Furthermore, there exists an alarmingly high rate of mortality (50% or higher) in domestic transport before the export takes place.
In the light of the current situation, the Standing Committee is asked to consider a recommendation for all Parties to suspend commercial trade in grey parrots from DRC until all the concerns and recommendations have been sufficiently addressed.
All Pangolin species (four Asian and four African species) were included Appendix II of CITES in 1994. Since 2000, there has been a zero annual quota for Asian pangolin species. Illegal trade in pangolin specimens is a growing international problem not only affecting Asian pangolin range States, but also those in Africa. A Working Group on Pangolins has been working to formulate recommendations to address the illegal trade in pangolin species, including on monitoring and management, legislation, enforcement, stockpile management, captive breeding, awareness raising, education and demand management. The Working Group will report on its work at SC66.
Snakes are bred in high numbers in certain countries to supply the demand for food, skins and pets. The harvesting of snakes, and in some cases the processing of their skins and other body parts, is of economic importance and contributes important revenue to local communities. However, unregulated or unsustainable trade in snakes can pose a significant threat to wild snake populations, and international cooperation is needed to address these threats. In this light, the Standing Committee will consider the drafting of a Resolution on the conservation, sustainable use of and trade in snakes, based on the latest scientific findings. The Committee will also start developing guidance for traceability systems for snakeskins
The cooperation between CITES and the fisheries sector has increased greatly as a result of the listing of five new commercially valuable species of sharks and all manta rays at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (Bangkok 2013). CITES Parties, the public sector as well as the CITES Secretariat, through an EU-CITES funded project, have undertaken a tremendous collective effort to ensure the successful implementation of the listings of these enigmatic species. The capacity building activities of the Secretariat to assist Parties in implementing the new shark listings were recently recognized by the UN General Assembly in its annual resolution on Sustainable Fisheries.
The upcoming Standing Committee was asked by the CITES Animals Committee to discuss several legal, regulatory and enforcement related elements of the new shark listings, among them the traceability of shark products in trade. The Secretariat, in support of this work, commissioned two studies, which are now available on the CITES Sharks Portal.
The CITES community has recently seen many references of the need to develop and implement traceability systems, including marking, labelling and tagging systems, through different discussions on species and related issues. These include snakes, queen conch, timber, sharks, and crocodiles, to name a few. The separate emergence of discussions on these species seem to indicate an increasing recognition by the Parties of the need to strengthen the supply chain for specimens of CITES-listed species in international trade.
The importance of traceability, in general, is widely recognized in many different commodity sectors, such as in agri-foods. Many stakeholders already work on developing various systems, standards, and governance of traceability, and a careful consideration is needed to ensure that Parties are able to choose the option that suits them, while avoiding any duplication of efforts.
Delegates will consider whether the issue of traceability of CITES-listed species in international trade could be better defined and consolidated, so as to provide a holistic guidance on the development and implementation of traceability systems for different species and different market chains.
The term ‘capacity building’ is generally used to cover the activities that support the Parties’ enhanced implementation of the Convention. CITES capacity-building activities span across many different countries and regions, and involve a multitude of donors, implementers, experts, and beneficiaries – not all of them are necessarily known to the wider CITES community. Delegates will review whether the range of instructions related to capacity building in the current CITES Resolutions and Decisions could be further rationalized, so that the provision of assistance and exchange of experiences could be improved and the needs of developing country Parties could be better met.