New Trade Rules Proposed for Dozens of Rare Plants, Animals

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 1, 2007 (ENS) - Changes in the rules for international trade in elephant ivory, gazelles, leopards, sharks, eels, pink coral, rosewood, and cedar are just a few of the 40 new government proposals that will be decided at an upcoming meeting of the Parties to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES.

Governments will accept or reject these proposals at the next triennial CITES conference, to be held in The Hague from June 3 to 15.

CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers said, "This year's CITES conference will consider an increased number of proposals for high-value species from the oceans and forests."

Wijnstekers

CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers (Photo courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
"This confirms that many governments increasingly view CITES as a vital tool for safeguarding the ecological and commercial future of key fisheries and timber-producing forests," he said.

The Secretariat has published a provisional scientific and technical assessment of the new proposals for amending wildlife trade rules.

Some proposals reflect growing international concern about the accelerating destruction of the world's marine and forest resources through overfishing and excessive logging, says the CITES Secretariat.

Other proposals seek to advance the protection or sustainable use of plants, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Still others aim to recognize conservation successes by removing from the CITES Appendices species that are no longer endangered.

"Biological diversity faces many threats, ranging from habitat destruction to climate change to unrestrained commercial harvesting for trade," said Executive Director Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme, which administers the CITES secretariat. "By ensuring that the international trade in wildlife is carefully managed, CITES seeks to reward people engaged in sustainable trade while protecting the world's biological diversity," he said.

The CITES System

CITES provides three regulatory options in the form of Appendices.

Appendix I: Animals and plants listed in Appendix I are excluded from international commercial trade except in very special circumstances. Appendix I contains about 530 animal species and more than 300 plant species, including all the great apes; various big cats such as cheetahs, the snow leopard and the tiger; numerous birds of prey, cranes, and pheasants; all sea turtles; many species of crocodiles, tortoises and snakes; and some cacti and orchids.

Appendix II: Commercial international trade is permitted for species listed in Appendix II, but it is strictly controlled on the basis of CITES permits. This Appendix II covers over 4,460 animal species and 28,000 plant species, including all those primates, cats, cetaceans, parrots, crocodiles and orchids not listed in Appendix I.

Appendix III: This appendix lists species that are protected within the borders of a member country. An Appendix III listing allows a country to call on others to help it regulate trade in the listed species. This Appendix lists over 290 species.

Elephant Ivory

The global debate over the African elephant has focused on the benefits that income from ivory sales may bring to conservation and to local communities living with these large and potentially dangerous animals versus concerns that ivory sales may encourage poaching.

This year's proposals to CITES again reflect these opposing views on how best to improve the conservation and sustainable use of the world's largest land animal.

CITES banned the international commercial ivory trade in 1989. Then, in 1997, recognizing that some southern African elephant populations were healthy and well managed, it permitted Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to make a one-time sale of ivory to Japan totaling 50 tonnes. The sales took place in 1999 and earned some US$5 million.

In 2002, CITES agreed in principle to allow a second sale from Botswana (20 tonnes), Namibia (10 tonnes) and South Africa (30 tonnes). In 2004 a request that CITES authorize annual quotas was not agreed.

elephants

African elepahts in Chobe National Park, Botswana (Photo © Peter Dollinger courtesy CITES)
The one-time sales were made conditional on the ability of the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants, MIKE, program to establish up-to-date and comprehensive baseline data on elephant poaching and population levels. MIKE was established to provide an objective assessment of what impact future ivory sales may have on elephant populations and poaching.

In October 2006, the CITES Standing Committee, which oversees the implementation of CITES decisions when the Conference of the Parties to CITES is not in session, determined that the MIKE baseline data was not yet complete and so the sales could not go forward. This issue will be revisited when the Standing Committee meets again in The Hague just before the June COP.

For this year's conference, Botswana and Namibia have jointly submitted a new proposal to maintain the elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in Appendix II while easing the conditions for permitting future sales.

In addition, Botswana is requesting authorization for a one-off sale of 40 tonnes of existing ivory stocks followed by an annual export quota of up to eight tonnes of ivory per year from its national population.

Tanzania is for the first time recommending that its elephant populations be transferred from Appendix I to Appendix II, with no immediate quota, which opens up the possibility for future sales. Tanzania argues that trade in ivory would be sustainable and a valuable instrument of conservation.

Taking the opposing view, Kenya and Mali are proposing that a trade ban in raw or worked ivory from all elephant range states be imposed for a period of 20 years. They argue that allowing any trade in ivory will increase the poaching of elephants.

The CITES Secretariat believes that all of this year’s elephant proposals contain technical problems and a meeting of the African range states is scheduled to take place in advance of the June conference.

Marine Species

This year's proposals seek to expand CITES coverage of marine species to two more sharks, the European eel, pink coral, sawfishes, a type of cardinelfish popular in the aquarium trade and two species of lobsters.

The spiny dogfish is a small shark that was once abundant in temperate waters. It is now overexploited for its meat, which is highly valued in Europe, often featured in British fish and chips shops. Like many other sharks, it is particularly vulnerable to excessive fishing because of its slow reproductive rate. It also tends to travel in large schools of hundreds or thousands, which are easier for fishing boats to track. Germany on behalf of the European Community, EC, proposes listing the dogfish in Appendix II and establishing a sustainable fishery management program for the species.

porbeagle

The pelagic porbeagle shark was declared globally Threatened by the IUCN-World Conservation Union in a 2005 assessment. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The porbeagle shark has experienced population declines in the northern Atlantic and the Mediterranean, owing to unsustainable fishing for its high-value meat and fins. The proposal by Germany on behalf of the EC notes the lack of consistent data on the global catch of this species. It argues that requiring CITES export permits would ensure that international markets are supplied by fish from sustainably managed fisheries that keep accurate records.

The European eel spawns in the Sargasso Sea in the eastern Atlantic. The larvae ride the Gulf Stream on a three year migration towards Europe, where they enter estuaries and grow into young fish. A popular food, eels live in coastal and freshwater ecosystems throughout Europe and the Mediterranean. Noting that eels have declined over the past several decades due to overfishing and other causes, Germany on behalf of the EC proposes to require export permits by listing the eel on Appendix II.

The most valuable of all the precious corals, pink coral has been fished for over 5,000 years and used for jewelery and other decorative items. These tiny marine animals build vast colonies throughout the tropical, subtropical and temperate oceans. The resulting reefs and colonies create valuable habitat for many other species. But overharvesting and the destruction of entire colonies by bottom trawls and dredges have led to steep population declines. The United States proposes adding the pink coral to Appendix II to control the trade by permit.

sawfish

The largetooth Sawfish, Pristis microdon, is a large, Endangered species of sawfish found in the Indo-West Pacific, in freshwater or inshore coastal waters. (Photo © R. Mitchell courtesy IUCN)
Once widespread from the tropics to the temperate latitudes, and living mostly in coastal areas, sawfish numbers have declined by over 90 percent throughout their range. Their long protruding saws, teeth, fins and another body parts bring high prices and are used in traditional medicine and as curios, while live specimens are sought for aquaria. If agreed in The Hague, the proposal by Kenya, Nicaragua and the United States would add sawfishes to Appendix I, which would forbid all international commercial trade.

The Banggai cardinelfish has been popular in the aquarium trade since 1995, with some 700,000 to 900,000 fish now being collected every year. Its limited geographic range, small population and reproductive habits render it particularly vulnerable to overexploitation. The United States proposes to place this fish on Appendix II and argues that existing captive breeding facilities could meet much of the demand.

Brazil proposes a CITES Appendix II listing for the Brazilian populations of the Caribbean spiny lobster and the smoothtail spiny lobster. After 50 years of intense commercial exploitation, these two species have been overfished for export to international food markets. The lobsters live in coastal waters, including reefs and seaweed banks, and take four years to reach full maturity.

Timber species

CITES has only recently begun to govern trade in timber trees. However, as loggers scour the remaining forests and selectively remove high-value timbers, concern has grown over the need for better controls. The CITES member States have already agreed to include Latin America's bigleaf mahogany and Southeast Asia's ramin and agarwood trees in Appendix II.

piano

This Steinway piano is covered in a veneer of rosewood from Belize. (Photo courtesy Steinway)
This year, Germany on behalf of the EC is proposing an Appendix II listing for three species of rosewood. This species grows only in the swamp forests of southern Belize and nearby regions of Guatemala and Mexico. The proposal argues that this species is threatened by increasing deforestation in the region and that it is very much sought after as tonewood for musical instruments. Easier access to its habitat and declining stocks of other rosewoods may increase trade levels.

The cedar of Central and South America, once a common tree, has been selectively cut for at least 250 years for its timber. This timber is valued locally for its resistance to rotting and insects and internationally as a precious wood. The cedar also suffers from extensive deforestation. To protect the species from being further reduced throughout its natural range, Germany on behalf of the EC proposes listing it on Appendix II and requiring trade permits.

Other proposals

loris

Slow loris in China (Photo courtesy Ministry of Culture, China)
The slow loris is a small, nocturnal primate that is native to South and Southeast Asia. Cambodia proposes that two species of slow loris are threatened by high and growing demand in Asian countries for traditional medicines and pets. They also suffer from escalating habitat destruction. Cambodia contends that transferring these species from Appendix II to Appendix I, thereby forbidding all commercial trade, would help raise public awareness of the need to protect it and would boost national conservation measures.

Algeria proposes adding several gazelle species to Appendix I, which bans commercial trade.

Guatemala seeks to transfer the beaded lizard from Appendix II to I.

Uganda would like to transfer the population of Ugandan leopards from Appendix I to Appendix II to allow limited trade in sports trophies.

Brazil proposes moving the Brazilian population of the black caiman from Appendix I to Appendix II.

Other proposals call for removing species altogether from CITES on the grounds that they no longer require such protection. These include a type of agave, a succulent plant, the North American bobcat or lynx, the ornamental plant oconee bells and several cactus species.

To view the technical proposals, visit: www.cites.org/eng/cop/14/prop/index.shtml