A thumbnail guide to CITES

Posted: 6 May 2008

Author: Alison Rosser and Sarah Ferris

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.

cactusCactus, Echinocereus gentryi, falls under Appendix II of CITES. It may be threatened with extinction unless it is subject to strict regulation and monitoring. © Hannes Proschko/CITESAnnually the international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billons of dollars and to include hundreds of millions of plants and animals. CITES accords varying degrees of protection to around 33,000 species - some 5,000 species of fauna and 28,000 species of flora.

Not one of the species protected under CITES has become extinct as a result of the trade in endangered plants and animals since the Convention entered into force in 1975. Even though there are now 172 states party to the Convention (in 2008), enforcement in many countries remains slack.

CITES is administered by a Secretariat based in Geneva, Switzerland. The Secretariat plays a coordinating, advisory and servicing role in the working of the Convention. Its staff carry out the duties assigned to them by the text of the Convention. and the resolutions and decisions of the Conference of the Parties. There are three technical committees:

> The Animals and Plants Committees deal with scientific matters referred to them by the COP and the Standing Committee. > The Nomenclature Committee rules on issues of CITES taxonomy.

National arrangements

Within each Party, CITES is administered by a national Management Authority responsible for issuing permits and certificates, and for ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Convention. A national Scientific Authority in each country advises the Management Authority on technical matters relating to the sustainability of trade in particular species.

The Appendices

The Convention's three Appendices lie at the heart of CITES operations, by naming the species under its protection. fish-eating crocodileFish-eating Crocodile, Gavialis gangeticus, found in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. This specie is listed under Appendix I of CITES - it is threatened with extinction and prohibited from commercial international trade. © Peter Dollinger (taken at National Zoological Park, Washington DC, USA)

Appendix I species are those threatened with extinction and are prohibited from commercial international trade, although captive bred or artificially propagated specimens and personal effects have specific exemptions/ provisions.

Appendix II species are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but may become so unless subject to strict regulation and monitoring. It includes the majority of listed species. It also helps ensure that trade in these species is sustainable. Before trade can be sanctioned by the exporting Management Authority, the Scientific Authority must determine that the trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.

Appendix III species are those that national jurisdictions wish to safeguard, and for which they require the assistance of other CITES Parties to monitor trade. The inclusion of mahogany in 1998 has shown that Appendix III can be very useful in terms of monitoring trade, provided that Parties comply with its provisions.

Meetings of the Conference of Parties (CoP)

The purpose of the CoP is several-fold and includes: > amending the Appendices of the Convention; > reviewing implementation of the Convention; and> considering any reports or recommendations of the Secretariat or any other Party.

The CoPs are held approximately every 2½ years and last for 10 working days. Observers include intergovernmental organizations, United Nations bodies, representatives of other international agreements, non-governmental organizations and countries not yet party to the Convention.

Before being dealt with by the Parties, most issues are first dealt with by Committees. Committee I deals with all amendment proposals and other biological issues. Committee II deals particularly with issues relating to implementation and enforcement.

Amendments to the Appendices may involve the addition or removal of a species from the Appendices or the transfer of species between the Appendices. Amendment proposals can themselves be amended during the CoP to clarify the intent or to restrict the scope of the proposal. Parties credentials must be accepted for their vote to count and a 2/3 majority of Parties voting is required. Votes may be taken by show of hands, roll call or secret ballot.

A Resolution by the CoP essentially provides guidance in interpreting the text of the Convention and aims to improve and strengthen the Convention. Resolutions are usually quite long-lasting. There are currently 77 Resolutions in force. A Decision tends to be more short-term and reflects the working programmes of the various Committees or Parties between the CoPs.

Alison Rosser is IUCN/SSC Wildlife Trade Programme Officer and Sarah Ferris is IUCN/SSC Wildlife Trade Programme Intern.Link:How CITES works