The statement confirms that the paper-based system is prone to forgeries, and acknowledges that the electronic system can instantly verify a permit and share real-time information on the wildlife trade. It goes on to say that this will help with law enforcement, which was a point made in a number of discussions at CITES CoP18; one transnational crime investigator clearly stated the immediate, positive benefit that implementing electronic CITES permits could have in driving down illegal trafficking and corruption.
So why are we able to create, and roll-out, a human COVID permit system, to enable real-time verification of vaccination status, in just a few months but still have got nowhere on a similar system for endangered species? After nearly 20 years there has been minimal progress.
Why is the political will and money easily forthcoming for protecting humans, but not animals? Why is business supportive of COVID passports but doesn’t care about easily and cheaply modernising its supply chain to protect wildlife, using the same type of QR code system which will help to decouple the legal and illegal trade?
When it comes to protecting the natural world, not humans, different standards apply. The equivalent system for CITES was developed by UNCTAD and costs only US$150,000 per CITES signatory parties. This means the total cost of rolling out this system to the countries not yet using electronic permits is less than US$30 million globally. It is also based around QR codes and can be rolled out quickly, taking 6-12 weeks per country.
The excuses from CITES range from a lack of money, to the lack of political will, or questioning why a centralised system should be needed.