CITES COP 16: What is your country doing?

by [earth] guest blogger

What are people doing here, anyway?

Day 2 of CITES COP 16 was *eventful*. I’m going to try to make more targeted posts from now on, and I got a great idea for one this morning when I was chatting with one of my friends from the USA, who had some questions for me:

Friend: “Are delegates deciding what to bring back to their countries in these meetings?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Friend: “As in, countries cannot officially pass policies there, right? So they discuss with other countries what needs to be done nationally, and then take it back to their own governments.”

Me: “Oh, yeah they can.”

This is a good question. It’s an implementation question. And maybe some of the nuances of CITES aren’t clear, or aren’t talked about as much as some of the bigger conservation implications. But I love the technical aspects of this Convention! So here we go:

As with any discussion about CITES, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. CITES deals with international trade primarily through implementation of the 3 Appendices

2. It does not regulate the taking (a.k.a hunting, killing, poaching, harvesting, etc.) of wildlife.

3. It does not have any sway over domestic trade–trade within a country.

What actually happens at these COPs? What kinds of decisions are being made?

One of the major things that happens at a COP (the thing that gets the most press and has the most *oomph*) is that Parties decide where species should be listed on the three Appendices. To summarize an earlier post, this determines if an import permit, or an import and export permit, must be issued by a scientific authority in order to move an organism or parts of an organism across international borders. Appendix I is the most strict (requiring an import and an export permit, and generally not for commercial trade of any kind), and Appendix III is the least–containing species that are listed voluntarily by a country, and require a certificate of origin and export permits from the countries that have listed them.

Nations are required to pass national legislation that will enforce the Convention. So when a species is added to or moved in the Appendices, a country should already have the framework to enforce these changes. Not all of them do–which is something that the United States is concerned about. You can read more about US priorities at COP 16 here: Some NGOs are proposing sanctions with countries that aren’t following regulations regarding ivory trade that have been approved through CITES.

In the Unites States, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is the permitting agency that decides whether to grant permits for species listed under CITES, and is responsible for enforcing that the Convention is followed through the Endangered Species Act, whichs provide the legislative framework that makes following CITES legally binding at the national level. The Lacey Act allows the United States to take enforcement action against individuals who are acting in violation of national or international laws.

At the COP, Parties review proposals to add, remove, or change how a species is listed in Appendices I and II. The Parties can come to a consensus about approving or rejecting a species listing proposal, and if a consensus is not reached, a 2/3 majority vote is required. Once a change to the Appendices is made, member Parties are required to enforce this change, normally within a 90 day window.

So to summarize, if a Party already has the legal framework in place to enforce CITES, a decision on an Appendix listing made at the COP is not reworked at the national level. Many nations lack this implementation framework, and capacity-building in this context is one of the challenges that CITES is trying to work on.

Countries may choose to take a reservation against a listing proposal within 90 days of the adoption of an amendment. This is unusual, however. You can see a list of reservations that member Parties have taken here:

I hope that wasn’t too dry, and clarifies a bit of what’s going on here!

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