A map went up on the CITES website recently; it shows which of the 183 CITES signatory parties have some form of electronic permitting already in place (14 signatories, colour amber) and how many parties are developing/planning an electronic CITES permit system (30 parties, colour green). Maybe the first thing to mention is, why would CITES invert the normal project management ‘traffic light colour’ convention, making amber ‘implemented’ and green ‘in progress’. Cynically, I would say that at a glance this makes the project’s progress look better than it truly is.
The map shows there has been a small increase in the number of countries who have upgraded their permit system, compared to when we started lobbying CITES to move from the 1970s paper-based permits. When we began this project, in September 2018, only 2 countries had implemented electronic permits. Given the current status, I think it is justified to call this the Map of Shame.
CITES signatory governments, together with the businesses who make huge profits from this trade, valued at US$360 billion annually, need to do much better. Business in particular need to put their hands in their very deep and full pockets and pull out the less than US$30 million needed to complete the global rollout of the CITES electronic permits. If they can’t do this, they must expect a growing push for No Transparency, No Trade.
So, are there any positives about having this map? Since moving to electronic CITES permits was first discussed in 2002, now, there is one central point to review who has, who is considering and who isn’t yet thinking about rolling out electronic permits. I can certainly vouch for how difficult it has been to seek out clear information on the status of this project over the last few years. We have a small step on the road to transparency, showing the current state of play, from CITES perspective and a central point to monitor progress. This will mean governments can no longer lie or spin the progress on this project. The map is clear for everyone to see, and shows that only 7.6% of CITES signatory parties have implemented some form of electronic permits in the 20 years it has been discussed.
Nature Needs More has continued to lobby CITES for transparency on this issue, including through our invitation to participate in the electronic permits working group. In February 2021, the Secretariat sent out a Notification to Parties asking them to submit their status and plans in relation to adopting electronic permitting. The map was published from the responses received.
While the map is up, it must be said that there is currently no clear definition of what constitutes a parties system being labelled ‘Amber’. From Nature Needs More’s perspective, to receive this ‘Amber’ status this should mean:
- For governance and independent monitoring, the CITES signatory party’s system has interoperability with the central monitoring system hosted by UNCTAD, and,
- Where a party chooses to built their own, customised system, and did not us the UNCTAD eCITES Base Solution, the party has agreed to pay all ongoing interoperability cost and the cost to ensure that their system is kept up to date at all times, and,
- Electronic permit exchange between countries is enabled. Currently, the degree of interoperability varies widely, and electronic permit exchange has only been implemented in a handful of cases.