Since its inception in 1975, CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has grown and evolved. In Washington D.C., on 3 March 1973, 80 countries agreed the text of the convention and on 1 July 1975 CITES was initiated. CITES is an international, voluntary agreement between governments. Their ultimate aim is to abundantly ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants doesn’t threaten their survival. They seek effective strategies to protect conservational species from overexploitation due to primarily trade. It is also the only international and legally-binding treaty to control the trade in endangered species.
CITES is one of the most effective multilateral environmental agreements in existence and is the most effective multilateral wildlife conservation regime (Downes 2016) (as cited in IFAW 2016). CITES comprises of 183 Parties (States that have agreed to be bound by the convention). They seek to accommodate the interests of these Parties with different degrees of institutional capacity and resources to implement the Convention. They have also grown in complexity due to the fact that there is an increasing number of species which require protection from over-exploitation. CITES has been among the conservation agreements with the largest membership. It remains one of the world's most authoritative and powerful tools for biodiversity conservation because they regulate trade in wild fauna and flora.
Over the last 40 years, CITES has regulated trade in more than 35,000 species and has helped save iconic species like elephants, tigers, rhinos, and many others from extinction (Downes 2016) (as cited in IFAW 2016). The CITES Appendices now include more than 35,000 species, including approximately 5,500 species of animals and 29,500 species of plants. It regulates international trades, including their products and derivatives, ensuring their survival in the wild with benefits for the livelihoods of local people and the global environment (CITES CoP 17).
Implementing CITES is challenging, even with abundant resources (IFAW 2016). International collaboration and cooperation is of utmost importance due to the fact that trade crosses national borders and to ensure that trade is controlled and takes sustainably place while simultaneously ensure that it doesn’t threaten or endanger wildlife.
CITES alone cannot change the conservation status of most species threatened with extinction and we must call on more appropriate international bodies and coordinated action by governments to address those broader threats, including the undeniable threat of climate change. However, CITES can give species the chance they deserve to recover their numbers, and in doing so, help Parties achieve their goals under other international agreements, including sustainable development regimes (Downes 2016) (as cited in IFAW 2016).
International wildlife trade is annually estimated to be worth billions of dollars including hundreds of millions of plant and animal specimens, making it one of the most lucrative transnational organised criminal activities. Levels of exploitation of some animal and plant species are high and the trade in them, together with other factors, such as habitat loss, is capable of heavily depleting their populations and even bringing some species close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard these resources for the future (CITES CoP 17 JHB). It impacts the tourism industry and the livelihoods of local communities as well as hindering progress with regards to sustainable development and poverty alleviation.
Species are listed on one of three appendices, according to the degree of protection they need and how threatened they are by international trade. Appendices I, II and III to the Convention are lists of species that include different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation. Since the Convention commenced, more than 30,000 species of animals and plants have been listed, from tigers and elephants to mahogany and orchids.
It includes 900 species that are presently threatened with extinction and are or may be affected by trade. They are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. Species cannot be traded internationally for commercial purposes. Article II(1) of the Convention states that “trade in specimens of these species must be subject to particularly strict regulation (IFAW 2016). Examples include: tiger, Himalayan brown bear, elephant, and Tibetan antelope.
It includes 34,000 species which may become threatened unless trade is strictly regulated to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. It is necessary to have two-thirds majority of Parties present and voting is required to include a species. These species aren’t necessarily threatened now with extinction but may become so unless their trade is strictly regulated. It also includes “look-alike” species (those species for which specimens in trade resemble those of other species included in Appendix I or II) (IFAW 2016). These species can be traded internationally for commercial purposes, but within strict regulations, requiring determinations of sustainability and legality. Examples include: Hippopotamus, bigleaf mahogany, and the grey wolf.
Species are included solely on the basis of a decision of a range State. Trade requires CITES documentation but no biological findings. It includes species unilaterally listed by individual Parties, but which will require issuance of CITES documents by all range States. These species are subject to domestic protections within their range. It specifically list species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species which requires the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of these species is only allowed on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.
Conference of the Parties (CoP)
The Conference of the Parties (CoP) is the decision-making body of the Convention. The CoP consists of all Parties to the Convention and a meeting between them to review the implementation of the Convention. The CoP, meeting in plenary, adopts species proposals, resolutions, and decisions of the Parties (IFAW 2016).
At meetings of the Conference of the Parties, which are held every two to three years, the Parties assess a species’ vulnerability and determine in which Appendix, if any, to place the species (IFAW 2016). Their main purposes are to: review progress in the conservation of species listed under CITES; consider, and where appropriate adopt, proposals to amend the lists of species under CITES; recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of the Convention; and make provisions necessary to allow the CITES Secretariat to function effectively.
The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa from 24 September to 5 October 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre. This meeting will be the fourth held on the African continent since CITES commenced in 1975. It will be the first one held on the continent since 2000. South Africa offered to host CoP17 at the 16th meeting of the CoP (Bangkok in 2013), which was approved by acclamation.
South Africa was amongst the first States to join CITES – only a few months after it was initiated. The country has actively participated in the work of the Convention since then. South Africa was specifically chosen because it’s a decidedly suitable location for the 17th CoP as they are facing numerous wildlife challenges and opportunities. These are currently being tackled. Africa is home to an immense array of CITES-listed species and South Africa is globally recognised for 'the Big Five' (namely Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion, and Leopoard).
Rhino poaching will feature on the agenda of CoP17, tying in with the logo of the conference, an iconic image of the African white rhinoceros. The rhino's body comprises the outlines of a number of species of endangered plants and animals from the African continent, such as the pangolin, cycad, African aloe and African lion. The rhino was chosen given South Africa's status as home to the largest rhino populations in the world and to draw attention to the challenges of poaching (CITES CoP 17 JHB).
In particular, CITES CoP17 assists in communicating and raising vital awareness about the importance of species and wildlife conservation as well as the urgent need to address the illegal trade in species, while simultaneously supporting legal trade supported by sound sustainable utilisation principles. Their aim is to prevent endangered species from being hunted and traded into extinction.
This meeting will bring the global community together to tackle challenges and opportunities of the world's biggest wildlife.
All of the Parties will make critical decisions with regards to wildlife trade policy and the scope of regulatory control over international trade in specific species. They will also evaluate the progress that has been made since 2013, as well as take the necessary decisions on what additional measures are needed to end illicit wildlife trafficking. It is also about coming up with resolutions that take forward the work already done around the trade in flora and fauna. Issues that will be discussed include captive lion breeding, and rhino and elephant poaching (having reached an all-time high) and synergies with the impending IUCN World Conservation Congress that will be held in Hawaii in September.
It will consider the recommendations from the 66th meeting of the CITES Standing Committee held in Geneva earlier this year (CITES CoP 17 JHB). There will daily be informative and refreshing workshops. And delegates will get an opportunity to experience South Africa’s beautiful biodiversity.
Here’s a link to the Provisional agenda and working documents:https://cites.org/eng/cop/17/doc/index.php
ReferencesInternational Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). 2016. Resource: CITES Pocket Guide: CoP17. Accessed on 09/09/2016. Available at: http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/resource-centre/cites-pocket-guide-cop17