This month at the World’s Wildlife Conference in Bangkok, parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (“CITES”) voted to increase trade protections for several threatened species. Approximately 5000 animal and 29,000 plant species receive some protection from CITES, although it struggles to combat illegal trade, and especially the burgeoning demand from China.
The CITES is a voluntary international agreement between governments. Its goal is to ensuring that international trade in wild animals and plants is sustainable, and does not pose a risk to the species. CITES decisions are, however, often highly political instead of scientific, which is why Japan gets away with continuing to slaughter whales.
177 countries that are parties to CITES; Canada was among the first 18 parties to ratify the agreement in 1975. Two years later, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) was created and it was only in 2004 that Canada’s Species At Risk Act (SARA) was fully in effect.
While CITES is legally binding on signatory countries, it does not override domestic laws; it provides a framework for countries to adopt legislation at the national level – only then do CITES decisions have teeth. In Canada, CITES is implemented primarily through the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA).
Parties to CITES agree to permit trade (import, export, re-export) in species set out in 3 appendices only in accordance with the Convention:
- Appendix I: species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade; trade in these species is strictly regulated and only authorized in exceptional circumstances
- Appendix II includes (a) species that may not currently be threatened with extinction but may become threatened if trade in them is not strictly regulated; it also includes (b)other species that must be regulated so that trade in species referred to in (a) may be effectively controlled. (This is by far the largest category, with nearly 34,000 species)
- Appendix III includes species identified by any party to CITES as subject to regulation within that party’s jurisdiction, and needing cooperation of other parties in control of trade.
The most restrictive trade requirements are for species included in Appendix I. For a species specimen to be exported, an export permit is required; as a prerequisite for such a permit being granted, the proponent must provide evidence that shows that the export will not harm survival of the species; that the specimen was obtained legally; that it will be handled to minimize risk of harm and cruel treatment; and that an import permit has been granted. Similar restrictions apply for import permits for these species. Export of Appendix II species also requires a permit (plus evidence as per Appendix I requirements), but import permits are not required.
- A crackdown on fishing of 5 shark species* hunted commercially for their fins (and sometimes meat): oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), porbeagle (Lamna nasus) and 3 species of hammerhead – scalloped, great and smooth (Sphyrna spp). They will be protected under Appendix II of CITES; permits will be required.
- Manta rays (Manta spp) will now be protected (Appendix II CITES*). Hunted for their gill plates, these animals have very low reproductive rates, grow slowly and are migratory, with small and fragmented populations.
- Rules for trading in elephants or elephant products were revised and actions targeted on the 30 most affected countries.
- Member states agreed to develop strategies that enhance awareness of the impacts of illicit trafficking in rhinoceros.
- Due to concerns of depletion due to unregulated logging, trade in rosewoods and ebonies (tropical hardwoods) will now be regulated by the Convention.
*Inclusion of the shark and manta species in CITES Appendix II will not be immediate; this will be delayed 18 months so that parties can resolve technical and administrative issues.