For those working on wildlife crime, particularly (illegal) wildlife trade, the last two weeks of November were spent looking at Panama, where representatives from 160 governments and numerous non-governmental organizations, law enforcement agencies, and other stakeholders, gathered to discuss the regulation of trade in endangered species.
Illegal wildlife trade is currently considered to be the 4th largest illegal trade in the world after arms, drugs and human trafficking, so these meetings are very much necessary. This was painfully highlighted by the fact that authorities in the United States arrested, among others, several high-level Cambodian government representatives for wildlife trafficking, while on their way to the convention in Panama. The international smuggling ring is charged with illegally exporting thousands of wild crab-eating macaques to the United States, falsely labeled as bred in captivity. These macaques are in high demand in bio-medical research and was one of the main species used to test COVID-19 vaccines.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international treaty that ensures trade in wild animals and plants does not endanger their survival. It is the Convention that gets people in trouble when they return from a vacation with seashells, wooden products, or any other animal/plant souvenirs without the necessary permits. This Convention not only regulates or prohibits trade in products such as ivory, tigers, and pangolin scales, but it also regulates trade in exotic pets like fish or reptiles, timber, medicinal plants, and much more. Over a million legal trade permits are issued each year, with an estimated value of 220 billion USD. Products like reptile skins and fish (sturgeon for caviar) account for almost two-thirds of this value. It is no surprise that besides this legal trade, there is a large illegal trade in wildlife as well.
183 parties and the European Union ratified the CITES agreement. All of these CITES Parties meet every two to three years to discuss proposals to amend the CITES Appendices, which can mean stricter or less strict protection for species. To be adopted, these proposals must receive a two-thirds majority of votes. Parties also meet to discuss decisions related to the Convention text and issues concerning its implementation. This is also the point at which politics and science can collide. Whereas proposals for economically important species such as rhinos or sharks are usually heavily debated, proposals for non-economically important species are usually accepted by consensus without even reaching the voting stage.
After two weeks of negotiations, the Convention will additionally regulate international trade in nearly 100 species of sharks and rays, more than 150 tree species, 160 amphibian species, including tropical frogs, 50 turtle and tortoise species, and several species of songbirds after adopting 46 of 52 proposals. These species are added to the 38 700 animal and plant species that are already listed on the CITES Appendices.
At the same time, over 100 representatives from law enforcement agencies, intergovernmental organizations, and other relevant organizations gathered at the 4th Global Meeting of Wildlife Enforcement Networks. These representatives met to discuss how they can expand regional or global collaborative efforts to combat wildlife crime, as well as to share experiences, observed trends, and priorities.
After all Parties have left Panama, it takes another 90 days before all decisions come into force.
Jordi Janssen, PhD Candidate NSCR