The Massive Trade in Endangered Species

The diagram above illustrates the massive trade in endangered species, which is regulated by CITES. The keys to understanding the growing extintion risk associated with the unsustainable exploitation of nature for trade are:

  1. CITES is not designed for the scale of the trade and the huge number of species listed for trade restrictions (currently 35,500)
  2. CITES is woefully underresourced and its permit and monitoring system is obsolete (mostly paper-based with annual reporting)
  3. The legal and illegal trade are so intertwined as to be functionally inseparable – it is far too easy to launder illegal items into legal markets
  4. CITES only regulates the international trade, it has no power over domestic markets
  5. The trade is not transparent and businesses involved in the trade do not contribute to the cost of regulation and enforcement (beyond token permit charges)

The Need for Change

Nature Needs More believes that it is impossible to tackle the illegal trade in flora and fauna until the legal trade is modernised. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the multilateral treaty put in place to manage the legal trade in endangered flora and fauna; CITES entered into force on 1 July 1975.

CITES has been in place for over 44 years and has had only 1 review of its effectiveness, which was 25 years ago in 1994. The compliance with CITES rules and appendix listings relies on a 1970s paper-based system of permits that cannot be reconciled with customs records at present or cope with modern day levels of trade. For these and additional factors, Nature Needs More asserts that it is impossible to decisively tackle the illegal trade in endangered species until the legal trade system is modernised to 21st century standards.

A 2012 UK parliamentary report estimated the value of the the legal trade in flora and fauna under CITES to be worth US$320 billion annually. Similarly, 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 [US$112 billion] annually.”

The value of the trade in flora and fauna together with permit fraud and the lack of real-time reporting and inability to reconcile this 1970s paper-based, stand alone system enable massive abuses of the legal trade system by wildlife traffickers. As a result, the illegal trade is now estimated to be worth up to US$258 billion annually, which means the illegal trade could be valued at 80% of the value of the legal trade; again demonstrating how ineffective the CITES permit and trade monitoring system is in reality.

Whilst any organisation that wants to reduce trade volumes or stop a trade in a particular species is challenged to provide evidence-upon-evidence-upon-evidence to back up their concerns and requests, CITES, IUCN SULi and others aren’t held to the same standards to provide proof that trade via the sustainable use model is working. And they can’t, because there are no useful or reliable trade analytics from 44 years of CITES operation.

What is interesting is that, in effect CITES can provide no evidence that the legal trade system is working; it doesn’t appear to apply the ‘evidence-based’ approach mantra to itself that it pushes on any organisation that wants to reduce or stop the trade in a particular species.

In addition, the annual core funding for CITES is only US$6.2 million (and given funding arrears, this is closer to US$4.7 million) and the convention CITES now lists over 35,000 species for trade restrictions on Appendix I and II, making identification and verification at customs an impossible task for purely practical reasons. With potentially 1 million species heading for extinction in the near future, the current listing mechanism is bound to break down completely.

Three Steps to Modernise CITES

As a result, Nature Needs More, together collaborative partner For the Love of Wildlife  have proposed a 3 Step process to modernise CITES.  to changes the articles of the Convention to a ‘reverse listing’ model first suggested by Australia in 1981. Under this system CITES would list only the species that have been approved for trade based on a thorough and ongoing assessment of the sustainability of such trade to ensure it will not negatively impact the wild cohort or the eco-system it lives in.

So, CITES lacks the resources to support parties to implement a modern, electronic, traceable permit system, even though such a system is available as an open-source product; moving to this system has been discussed for nearly a decade. We propose to introduce an import levy on the legal trade under CITES to set up and maintain a modern permit and trade system for all 183 parties.

Step 1 – Electronic Permits

READ MORE: Electronic Permits

Step 2 – Reverse Listing

READ MORE: Reverse Listing

Step 3 – Industry Contributions

READ MORE: Industry Contribution