China’s trade in endangered pangolins actively undermines CITES, the US Government rules

China’s failure to do enough to prevent the illegal trade in endangered pangolins is damaging the effectiveness of a key international wildlife treaty, the US Department of the Interior has announced.

The decision was taken in response to a 2020 petition brought by EIA UK and its partners the Center for Biological Diversity and the Global Law Alliance for Animals and the Environment, Lewis & Clark Law School.

The petition requested China’s formal certification for violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) under a US law called the Pelly Amendment, which authorises the President to embargo wildlife products and limit other imports from nations determined to be engaging in trade undermining the effectiveness of any international treaty or convention for the protection of endangered or threatened species to which the US is a party.

Pangolins – the most heavily trafficked mammals in the world

Following China’s certification, President Joe Biden must decide by late October whether to impose a trade embargo against China to prompt its compliance. If he fails to impose sanctions, then an explanation to Congress is necessary.

Pangolins are the most heavily trafficked mammals in the world. They are consumed in China as a luxury meat and their scales are used in traditional Chinese medicine. CITES has banned the international pangolin trade, yet it continues in China because of legal exemptions and poor enforcement.

Despite the CITES ban, approximately 600,000 pangolins were illegally traded between 2016-19 alone.

EIA UK Deputy Campaign Lead (Pangolins) James Toone said: “EIA has monitored the illegal trade in pangolins for many years and in 2018 launched a campaign to highlight their plight.

Traditional Chinese medicine product containing pangolin

“Demand for pangolin parts and derivatives for use in the traditional Chinese medicine industry is a significant threat to the species. Without action taken to stop the use of pangolins and their derivatives by companies manufacturing medicinal products, pangolins face potential extinction.

“Reforms in 2022 by China to laws designed to regulate the use of pangolins and other endangered species do not go far enough — research from 2023, soon to be published by EIA UK, shows that more than 50 products manufactured by companies and readily available online still contain pangolin derivatives.

“More needs to be done by the Government of China to implement fully the most recent CITES resolution and close its domestic markets that fuel illegal trade in pangolins.”

In 1993, President Bill Clinton used the Pelly process to certify and ban wildlife imports from Taiwan due to its rhino trade, which violated CITES. Taiwan promptly closed its domestic rhino market.