Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a mature international treaty that became effective in 1975. At the beginning of 2007, 169 sovereign states had ratified or acceded to the treaty.
Global trade in animals and plants is not measured by any one organization or individual; it occurs as $20 tourist items or as single blue fin tuna worth $40,000 for the Japanese sushi market, as well as reptile skin shipments worth more than $1 million. The total amount of trade in wild plants and animals is very difficult to determine, but one comprehensive estimate for the 1990s suggested an annual value of $15 billion, excluding timber and fisheries, which by themselves may have a value of $140 billion. Estimates of illegal trade in endangered species range between $5 billion and $10 billion per year. It is widely accepted that the value of illegal wildlife trade is second only to the illegal drug trade.
Approximately 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants are listed for some level of protection under CITES. Most well-known animals and plants are within the umbrella of the treaty: bears, elephants, whales, large cats, rhinos, sea horses, corals, orchids, andmahogany are but a sample of the species. The only group that is not well represented on the list is commercial fish from the open ocean. This absence has to do more with international politics than biological status.
The purpose of the treaty is to control the international movement of treaty-listed wild plants and animals, alive or dead, whole or parts thereof (specimens of species) in such a manner as to be assured that the pressures of international trade do not contribute to the endangerment of a species. This treaty does not deal with trade issues within a country or with the issues of habitat protection or preservation. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is implemented by way of permit requirements for the listed species. These permits are operative at the customs level as trade moves across national boundaries.
This is an active treaty regime; representatives of all themember statesmeet every two years to consider what adjustments need to be made to the list of protected species and what management and policy issues need to be addressed.
Listing of Species
The treaty creates categories into which species of concern or at risk of extinction may be placed: appendix I and appendix II. Those on appendix I are species threatenedwith extinction and which are affected by international trade. Appendix II lists species that may be threatened with extinction and are part of international trade.
The placement of a species in appendix I or II is a group decision made at the conference of the parties (COP) and requires a two-thirds vote of the parties. Any state that disagrees with a listing decision may take a reservation on the species listingwithin 90 days of the vote. As of 2007, approximately 228 mammals and 146 bird species were listed on appendix I, and 369 mammal and 1,401 bird species on appendix II.
Since a consequence of listing a species on appendix I is that commercial trade in the specieswill be prohibited, proposals for placing new species on appendix I receive very close scrutiny by the delegates at the COP.
Once a species is placed on either appendix I or II, then the protection of the treaty is triggered by the treaty requirement that each state must prohibit the transboundary movement of the species unless a permit has been issued by the relevant country. As there is no international police system to enforce the obligations of CITES, the treaty presumes that enforcement will be done at the national level. Indeed, a specific obligation of the treaty is for each state to adopt domestic legislation that will carry out the requirements of the treaty.
Appendix II species normally will be allowed in international trade so long as a CITES export permit has been issued by the state of export. Before issuing such a permit, the authorities of the state of export must make a key ecological finding: the scientific authority of the state of exportmust advise that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of that species. This is a particularly challenging requirement in developing countries where wildlife science formany species is nonexistent. If detrimental trade is allowed, knowingly or unknowingly, then the goal of the treaty is frustrated.
Appendix I species, those already identified as at risk of extinction, require two permits: an exporting permit and an importing permit. The criteria for the exporting permit are the same as with appendix II species. Note that the importing states must also make a finding that the purpose of the import will not be detrimental to the species. For the import permit the key requirement is that the management authority of the state of importmust be satisfied that the specimen is not to be used for primarily commercial purposes. Although the determination of what is a primarily commercial purpose would seem to be straightforward in themain, on themargins it is a difficult question. Sport hunting trophies are generally not considered to have a commercial purpose even though they may have a market value. Importation of animals by zoos is likewise not prohibited by CITES custom even though the zoo will pay for the animal and generate money from its display.
The limitation on commercial use of appendix I species is controversial, in that some states argue that economic utilization of appendix I species would be useful for obtaining the resources and political motivation for the protection of the species for example, the sale of elephant ivory could raise funds to help protect elephants. Additionally some states are troubled by the fact that the importing county (primarily the developed countries) can block trade that the exporting country (primarily developing countries) believes is acceptable. These issues have been settled by the language of the treaty and itwould take an amendment of the treaty to change the existing approach. Although an amendment process is provided for in the treaty, it is highly unlikely to occur.
The enforcement problems faced by CITES are not just the limitations of the treaty language but also limitations within individual party states:
- Lack of adequate domestic laws.
- Lack of an adequate number of government employees and lack of pay and training for the employees that do exist.
- Lack of scientific experts within a country, unwillingness to give power to them, and a lack of resources for the scientists that are present.
- Lack of support from the police and courts for wildlife crime prosecutions and lack of serious punishment when a prosecution is successful.
- Lack of a public education component.