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A Brief Introduction to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

CITES was established as a response to growing concerns that over-exploitation of wildlife through international trade was contributing to the rapid decline of many species of plants and animals around the world. The Convention was signed by representatives from 80 countries in Washington, DC, United States, on 3 March 1973, and entered into force on 1 July 1975. As of December 2008, there are 173 parties to the Convention.

The aim of CITES is to ensure that international trade of wild animal and plant species does not threaten their survival. The Convention's conservation goals are to: monitor and stop commercial international trade in endangered species; maintain species under international commercial exploitation; and assist countries toward sustainable use of species through international trade. CITES parties regulate wildlife trade through controls and regulations on species listed in three appendices. Appendix I lists species endangered due to international trade. Trade in such species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Appendix-II species are those that may become endangered if their trade is not regulated, thus they require controls aimed at preventing unsustainable use, maintaining ecosystems and preventing species from entering Appendix I. Appendix-III species are those subject to domestic regulation by a party requesting the cooperation of other parties to control international trade in that species.

In order to list a species in Appendix I or II, a party needs to submit a proposal for approval by the Conference of the Parties (COP), supported by scientific and biological data on population and trade trends. The proposal must be adopted by a two-thirds majority of parties present and voting. As the trade impact on a species increases or decreases, the COP decides whether or not the species should be transferred or removed from the appendices.

There are approximately 5,000 fauna species and 28,000 flora species protected under the three CITES appendices. Parties regulate international trade of CITES species through a system of permits and certificates that are required before specimens listed in its appendices are imported, exported or introduced from the sea. Each party is required to adopt national legislation and to designate two national authorities, namely, a Management Authority responsible for issuing these permits and certificates based on the advice of the second national body, the Scientific Authority. These two national authorities also assist with CITES enforcement through cooperation with customs, police and other appropriate agencies. Parties maintain trade records that are forwarded annually to CITES, thus enabling the compilation of statistical information on the global volume of international trade in appendix-listed species.

The COP is the governing body of CITES. Other operational bodies of CITES include the Standing Committee (SC), the Plants Committee (PC) and the Animals Committee (AC). The CITES Secretariat interprets Convention provisions and assists CITES parties and committees.
Conference of the Parties

The first CITES COP was held in Bern, Switzerland, in November 1976, and subsequent COPs have been held every two to three years. The COP meets to, inter alia: review progress in the conservation of species included in the appendices; discuss and adopt proposals to amend the lists of species in Appendices I and II; consider recommendations and proposals from parties, the Secretariat, the SC and the scientific committees; and recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of the Convention and related to the functioning of the Secretariat. The COP also periodically reviews the list of resolutions and decisions, as well as the species listed in its appendices.

COP-11: At its eleventh meeting (April 2000, Nairobi, Kenya), the COP considered 61 proposals to amend the CITES appendices, and addressed, inter alia: the procedure to review criteria for amending Appendices I and II; species quotas; conservation of, and trade in, rhinoceroses and elephants; trade in freshwater turtles, seahorses, bigleaf mahogany, hard coral, and bear specimens; bushmeat; transport of live animals; the relationship between CITES and FAO and the International Whaling Commission (IWC); a universal labeling system for sturgeon specimen identification; and the CITES information management strategy. The meeting reached a compromise on the African elephant whereby ivory trade would be prohibited until COP-12 and the African elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe remain listed on Appendix II. South Africa's proposal to transfer its population of African elephant from Appendix I to Appendix II was adopted as amended to induce zero export quota for raw ivory. The meeting also rejected proposals to downlist populations of gray and minke whale and the hawksbill turtle.

COP-12: At its twelfth meeting (November 2002, Santiago, Chile), the COP addressed a range of topics related to strategic and administrative matters, implementation of the Convention, and proposals for amendment of Appendices I and II. The meeting’s results included the listing of seahorses, basking and whale sharks and bigleaf mahogany in Appendix II, and rejection of proposals to downlist populations of minke and bryde’s whales from Appendix I to Appendix II. A listing proposal for the Patagonian toothfish was withdrawn. A proposal for an Appendix I listing of all African elephant populations was also withdrawn, ceding to the COP’s decision to allow three African States - Botswana, Namibia and South Africa - to sell a limited and strictly controlled amount of their registered ivory.

COP-13: At its thirteenth meeting (October 2004, Bangkok, Thailand), the COP addressed a range of topics, including 50 proposals to amend the CITES appendices. COP-13 approved the listing of ramin, agarwood, the great white shark and the humphead wrasse in Appendix II, as well as the uplisting of the irrawaddy dolphin from Appendix II to I. Regarding the African elephant, Namibia saw its request for an annual ivory quota rejected, but was allowed to proceed with a strictly controlled sale of traditional ivory carvings. Delegates also agreed on an action plan to crack down on unregulated domestic ivory markets. Namibia and South Africa were allowed an annual quota of five black rhinos each for trophy hunting, and Swaziland was also allowed to open up strictly controlled hunting of white rhinos. Other decisions focused on synergies with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), while enforcement issues received considerable attention.

COP-14: At its fourteenth meeting (June 2007, The Hague, the Netherlands), the COP achieved a consensus on the Strategic Vision, which sets out three strategic goals on: compliance and enforcement; securing financial resources; and CITES’ role in the broader international environment agenda. Among other highlights, the meeting agreed that no cetacean species should be subject to periodic review while the IWC moratorium is in place; and decided to list slender-horned and Cuvier’s gazelles and slow loris on Appendix I, and Brazil wood, sawfish and eel on Appendix II. Following the achievement of a landmark regional consensus on ivory trade by the African elephant range states, the meeting amended the annotation on African elephants to allow a one-off sale of ivory from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe with a nine-year resting period for further ivory trade. The meeting also agreed to the development of a memorandum of understanding between CITES and the International Tropical Timber Organization.
Standing Committee

The Standing Committee provides policy guidance to the Secretariat concerning the implementation of the Convention and oversees the management of the Secretariat's budget. It also coordinates and oversees, where required, the work of other committees and working groups; carries out tasks given to it by the COP; and drafts resolutions for consideration by the COP.

SC-53: At its 53rd meeting (June-July 2005, Geneva, Switzerland), the Standing Committee discussed: the rules of procedure; the Strategic Vision; a memorandum of understanding between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Standing Committee; the review of significant trade; financial matters; and budgetary matters. Other decisions focused on: synergies between CITES and the CBD; cooperation with the Convention on Migratory Species and FAO; conservation of, and trade in, great apes, tigers, and African and Asian rhinoceroses; and control of trade in African elephant ivory.

SC-54: At its 54th meeting (October 2006, Geneva, Switzerland), the Standing Committee approved the Secretariat’s estimated expenditures for 2006, and set a deadline for the submission of comments on the CITES Strategic Plan 2008-2013. The Committee agreed to: defer consideration of trade in tigers to COP-14; review timber trade in Peru and Malaysia at future SC meetings; and designate Japan as a trading partner for the one-off sale of ivory stockpiles from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa agreed at COP-12, but not to proceed with the sale at this point. A memorandum of understanding was signed between CITES and FAO.

SC-55: At its 55th meeting (June 2007, The Hague, the Netherlands), the Standing Committee addressed substantive and organizational matters for COP-14. It also examined China’s request to be considered a trading partner for African ivory, but deferred its decision until SC-57.

SC-56: At its 56th meeting, immediately prior COP-14 (June 2007, The Hague, the Netherlands), the Committee re-elected Cristian Maquieira (Chile) as Chair.

SC-57: At its 57th meeting (July 2008, Geneva, Switzerland), the Committee addressed the CITES Strategic Vision for 2008-2013; financial matters; review of the scientific committees; and trade and conservation issues in species including great apes, elephants, tigers, rhinoceroses, sturgeons, ramin and bigleaf mahogany. The Committee adopted a number of recommendations, including on: development of indicators; costed programme of work for 2009-2011; review of the status of the elephant, trade in its specimens and the impact of the legal trade; and designation of China as an ivory trading partner. Many intersessional working groups were established to carry out work on, inter alia: CITES and livelihoods; introduction from the sea; the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme; decision-making mechanism for authorizing ivory trade; intensive operations breeding tigers on a commercial scale; review of the scientific committees; cooperation between parties and promotion of multilateral measures; trade in crocodilian specimens; and purpose codes on CITES permits and certificates.
Animals and Plants Committees

The Animals and Plants Committees were established at COP-6 (1987, Ottawa, Canada) to fill gaps in biological and other specialized knowledge regarding species of animals and plants subject to CITES trade controls. Their role is to provide technical support to decision making about these species. Their terms of reference include: providing scientific advice and guidance to the COP, the other committees, working groups and the Secretariat; dealing with nomenclatural issues; 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 a process known as the “Review of Significant Trade”); and drafting resolutions on animal and plant matters for consideration by the COP.
The Animals and Plants Committees meet twice between COP meetings. They report to the COP and, if so requested, provide advice to the Standing Committee. Their members are experts from the six major geographical regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, and Oceania) as well as a specialist on nomenclature.

AC-18: At its 18th meeting (April 2002, San José, Costa Rica) the AC considered a number of items, including sharks, turtles, sturgeon and revision of the process of significant trade reviews. The AC adopted recommendations on: the need for CITES parties to assist FAO in the implementation of the International Plan of Action for Sharks; listing all Asian tortoises and freshwater turtles on the appendices; and a new system to extend sturgeon labeling requirements.

PC-12: At its twelfth meeting (May 2002, Leiden, the Netherlands), the PC agreed on the removal of certain genera of artificially propagated orchid hybrids from the appendices. It also recommended that Harpagophytum spp. (devil’s claw) range States provide an update on its trade and biological status, for a potential Appendix III listing.

PC-13: At its thirteenth meeting (August 2003, Geneva, Switzerland), the PC considered strategic planning, significant trade in plants, and evaluation of the review of significant trade. Delegates also followed up on COP-12 decisions on Harpagophytum spp. (devil’s claw), Guaiacum spp. (lignum vitae) and Aquilaria spp. (agarwood), and agreed on the terms of reference and schedule for the review of criteria for amending Appendices I and II.

AC-19: At its 19th meeting (August 2003, Geneva, Switzerland), the AC addressed: strategic planning; the review of significant trade; review of criteria for amending Appendices I and II; periodic review of animal species included in the appendices; and several marine species, including tortoises and freshwater turtles, seahorses, sea cucumbers, sharks, hard coral and the queen conch.

PC-14: At its fourteenth meeting (February 2004, Windhoek, Namibia), the PC reviewed the criteria for amending the appendices and finalized the evaluation of the review of significant trade. The meeting also addressed: definition of technical terms used in the annotations for medicinal plants; annotations for artificially propagated hybrids and for CITES-listed medicinal plants; and regional representation and communication.

AC-20: At its 20th meeting (March-April 2004, Johannesburg, South Africa), the AC focused on the review of the criteria for amending the appendices and the evaluation of the review of significant trade. The meeting also addressed a range of marine-related issues, such as sharks, sea cucumbers, hard corals, seahorses, and tortoises and freshwater turtles.

PC-15/AC-21: At its fifteenth meeting (May 2005, Geneva, Switzerland), the PC addressed Appendix annotations to plants, medicinal plants and orchids; and referred the issue of bigleaf mahogany to an intersessional working group, which was charged with presenting its findings at PC-16. AC-21 (May 2005, Geneva, Switzerland) completed a new review of significant trade process for a large number of species; and referred contentious issues related to sharks and transport of live animals to intersessional working groups, which would present their findings to AC-22. A joint session of the scientific committees discussed issues of common interest, including: the Strategic Vision and Plan until 2013; the review of the scientific committees and regional communication; the study of production systems for specimens of CITES-listed species; and the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).  

PC-16/AC-22: At its 16th meeting (July 2006, Lima, Peru), the PC decided not to subject bigleaf mahogany to a significant trade review, established an intersessional working group on Prunus africana, and discussed a proposal on timber export quotas to be presented at COP-14. AC-22 addressed a review of significant trade for a number of new species, reached agreement on sea cucumbers, sharks and the historically challenging definition of fossil corals, and established informal intersessional groups to continue work on crocodile ranching and the transport of live specimens. A joint session of the scientific committees addressed: proposed amendments to the rules of procedure; the review of the scientific committees; the review of significant trade in Madagascar; transport of live specimens; and the CBD Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines for the Sustainable Use of Biodiversity.

PC-17/AC-23: At its 17th meeting (April 2008, Geneva, Switzerland), the PC discussed topics including: the review of significant trade in Appendix II species; the periodic review of plant species included in CITES appendices; timber issues; strategic planning; non-detriment findings; transport of live plants; and the definitions of hybrids and cultivars. Delegates agreed to include bigleaf mahogany in the review of significant trade, recommending that the review be limited to parties with implementation problems. AC-23 addressed: review of significant trade in Appendix II species; production systems for specimens of CITES-listed species; conservation and management of sharks; the periodic review of animal species included in the Convention’s appendices; and a proposal to transfer the Mexican population of Crocodylus moreletii from Appendix I to Appendix II. A joint session of the two committees addressed: the revision of the terms of reference of the PC and AC; cooperation with advisory bodies of other biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements; the review of significant trade in specimens of Appendix II species; an international expert workshop on non-detriment findings; and transport of live animals and plants.
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