What is CITES?
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement to which governments voluntarily adhere and which seeks to ensure that the trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
The annual international trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and ranges from live animals and plants to a vast array of wildlife products derived from them, including foods, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines.
Some animal and plant species are heavily exploited and the trade in them, together with other factors such as habitat loss, is capable of seriously depleting their populations – and even pushing some close to extinction. Many wildlife species in trade are not endangered, but the existence of an agreement to ensure the sustainability of the trade is important in order to safeguard them for the future.
CITES was drafted as a result of a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of The World Conservation Union. It entered into force on July 1, 1975 and today accords varying degrees of protection to more than 30,000 species of animals and plants.
States which have agreed to be bound by the Convention are known as Parties. Although CITES is legally binding on the Parties, it does not take the place of national laws but instead provides a framework around which each Party is expected to adopt its own domestic legislation
At present, 175 Parties have opted to be bound by the provisions of CITES.
What is the Conference of the Parties (CoP)?
The Conference of the Parties (CoP) is the supreme body of the Convention, comprising all Parties.
Every three years, the Conference of the Parties meets to review the implementation of the Convention. These meetings last for about two weeks and are usually hosted by one of the Parties.
The meetings are widely referred to as ‘CoP’ followed by a sequential number indicating the unique identity of the individual meetings (the first meeting was CoP1, the second CoP2, and so on).
What are the CITES appendices?
The CITES appendices are lists of animals and plants afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation.
Appendix I lists those species deemed most endangered. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, such as for scientific research, when trade may be allowed if authorised by both an import permit and an export permit (or re-export certificate).
Appendix II lists species not necessarily threatened with extinction at present but which may become so unless trade is closely controlled. International trade in specimens of species listed in Appendix II may be authorised by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary under CITES. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild.
Appendix III lists species included at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of Appendix III species is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.
Species may be added to or removed from Appendix I and Appendix II, or moved between them, only by the Conference of the Parties, either at its regular meetings or by postal procedures.