The commodification of nature can’t be undone without undermining a basic tenet of capitalism – unlimited economic growth. Given that the unfettered growth is no longer feasible with hard ecological limits to further growth, it is time to rethink this commodification. Trade is one aspect of this commodification and to address the continued biodiversity loss, the agencies and organisations focused on the trade in endangered species must be both commercial in their analysis of the trade and conservation minded in their assessment of its sustainability.
This focus goes beyond dealing with the rampant illegal trade, it sits squarely in the management, regulation and resourcing of the legal trade system. There needs to be definitive proof that the sustainable use model works for each and every species before trade is allowed to continue. This also means that sustainable use as a basis for global development aid needs to be addressed, as it further increases the pressure on wildlife and protected areas. The strategy of selling off endangered species solely as a means of poverty alleviation in developing countries cannot be ignored and alternative models, such as a Basic Income, must be considered.
Addressing unsustainable commodification also goes beyond CITES. Agencies that exist today to promote trade and sustainable use without being responsible for the consequences – such as the WTO, UNCTAD and the World Bank – need to have updated mandates that restrict such promotion and funding to cases where sustainable use and sustainable growth can be proven upfront and in conjunction with the regulator – CITES.
This further means fixing the glaring issues in the current CITES listing system. There are nearly 36,000 species listed under CITES for legal trade regulations, but we also know from research published in February 2019 that even when a species is identified by the IUCN Red List as being threatened from trade, the wait is on average 12 years for protection under CITES; and some species have already been waiting up to 24 years to be listed after first being named on IUCN Red List as being threatened from trade; during this wait species can be traded freely. These non-CITES listed species are covered by more general trade agreements, such as Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and as a consequence of multilateral FTAs the WTO. As early as 1994 the Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE) was created within the WTO; the CTE has a broad mandate – from the WTO website “it has contributed to identifying and understanding the relationship between trade and the environment in order to promote sustainable development.”
As a 2016 European Parliament report states “The wildlife trade is one of the most lucrative trades in the world. The legal trade into the EU alone is worth EUR 100 billion annually”. This same report highlights that the WTO is one of the organisation considering this trade and states “Under WTO rules additional checks and regulations are permitted in cases where trade could negatively affect the environment.” [Again, from the report]: Although the WTO primarily acts as a regulatory framework to facilitate international trade, the WTO formally accepts that exceptions to free trade rules are very important in environment related issues. In 2015 CITES and the WTO produced a joint statement agreeing that that the well-being of economies, habitats, and societies are inextricably linked.