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CITES and Free Trade Agreements
Photo Credit: Anne St. John/USFWS
by Anne St. John
The United States negotiates both bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with other countries to promote international commerce by reducing tariffs. Currently, 17 such agreements are in effect. In addition to their economic purposes, trade agreements provide an important tool for the U.S. government to promote environmental objectives. All FTAs now include substantive environmental commitments by the signatory parties. These commitments, contained in the FTA environmental chapters, require the parties to improve upon and effectively enforce their environmental laws. FTAs now also include side agreements on environmental cooperation, which contain programs aimed at improving the capacity of the foreign party or parties to fulfill the environmental commitments in the FTA.
The environmental chapters of FTAs typically encourage effective implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and other multinational environmental agreements. CITES is an international treaty aimed at ensuring that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It took effect in 1975 and now includes 175 member countries.
In the U.S., the Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for implementing CITES. Our International Affairs Program, which comprises both the International Wildlife Trade and Wildlife Without Borders programs, has the lead. The divisions of Management Authority and Scientific Authority handle CITES permitting, policy, and regulatory activities, working closely with other federal and state agencies. The Service is increasingly engaging with our federal partners to carry out the environmental aspects of FTAs and side agreements.
Since 2008, the Service has supported extensive work by the Department of the Interior’s International Technical Assistance Program (ITAP) to build the capacity of other countries to implement and enforce CITES by provide training and assistance. These capacity-building programs have included work with the six Central American signatories to the 2004 Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR): Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The Service and ITAP have been working with non-governmental organizations, academic researchers, the CITES Secretariat, the Central American Commission on Environment and Development (Comisión Centroamericana de Ambiente y Desarrollo), and other agencies to help these countries address the detrimental effects of illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
ITAP activities have included training enforcement personnel in inspection of wildlife shipments and related enforcement techniques, legal and regulatory workshops for government officials, field studies to monitor the status of traded species, assistance in preparation for CITES meetings, improving the operations of wildlife rescue centers, and evaluating the adequacy of existing regulations and laws. The Service will continue to provide technical expertise to ITAP and its partner organizations in coming years, and we hope improved enforcement and implementation of CITES in Central America will alleviate the flow of threatened wildlife into the U.S, while reducing the region’s illegal and unsustainable wildlife trade.
Photo Credit: Anne St. John/USFWS
The Service has also been extensively involved in work related to the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement (PTPA), which took effect February 1, 2009. In addition to the general requirement to effectively implement CITES, the PTPA contains an Annex on Forest Sector Governance that includes measures related to timber species listed under CITES as well as broader forest management and timber extraction issues in Peru. The Service has provided advice to Peru on improving its implementation of CITES and will likely be involved in future capacity-building workshops.
As environmental considerations take an increasingly prominent role in the negotiation and implementation of free trade agreements, it is likely that CITES will remain an important aspect of future agreements. This situation provides the Service with an important opportunity to continue in its long-standing role as a global CITES leader and help other countries improve their CITES implementation. Our collaborative efforts through CITES, FTAs, and similar agreements will continue to support the goal that no species of wildlife or plant is lost due to international trade.
Anne St. John, a fish and wildlife biologist with the Service’s CITES Division of Management Authority, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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