The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is administered through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). A Secretariat, located in Geneva, Switzerland, oversees the implementation of the treaty and assists with communications between countries.
Each country that implements CITES, referred to as a “Party”, must designate a Management Authority and Scientific Authority to carry out the treaty. The Management Authority ensures that CITES-listed species are traded legally through the issuance of permits. The Scientific Authority determines whether trade in a particular animal or plant species could be detrimental to its survival in the wild.
Protecting Species from Unsustainable Trade
Cacti, iguanas, and parrots represent some of the approximately 35,000 species protected by CITES. Species for which trade is controlled are listed in one of three Appendices to CITES, each conferring a different level of regulation and requiring CITES permits or certificates.
- Appendix I: Includes species threatened with extinction and provides the greatest level of protection, including restrictions on commercial trade. Examples include gorillas, sea turtles, most lady slipper orchids, and giant pandas. Currently 931 species are listed. Of this number, approximately 136 species are native to the United States.
- Appendix II: Includes species that although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. It also includes species that resemble other listed species and need to be regulated in order to effectively control the trade in those other listed species. Most CITES species are listed in this Appendix, including American ginseng, paddlefish, lions, American alligators, mahogany and many corals. Currently 34,419 species are listed. Of this number, approximately 1,432 species are native to the United States.
- Appendix III: Includes species for which a range country has asked other Parties to help in controlling international trade. Examples include map turtles, walruses and Cape stag beetles. Currently 147 species are listed. The United States currently has 27 animal species and 1 plant species listed in Appendix III. Many of these animal species are freshwater turtles, which were listed in 2006.
Working Together to Implement CITES
Collectively, the member countries to CITES are referred to as the Conference of Parties. Every two to three years, a meeting of the Conference of Parties, commonly referred to as a “CoP”, is held to review, discuss, and negotiate changes in the implementation of CITES. All major decisions, including changes in protections for certain species, are made by voting Parties at a CoP.
Several advisory committees have been established to provide policy guidance and technical support to the Secretariat and the Conference of Parties. These committees meet between CoPs, often developing documents to inform the decision-making process.
The Standing Committee provides general policy and operational direction to the Secretariat regarding CITES implementation and advises the other committees as appropriate. It drafts resolutions for consideration by the Conference of the Parties and carries out any activities assigned to it between meetings of the Conference of the Parties. The Standing Committee is also responsible for overseeing the development and execution of the Secretariat’s budget.
The Animals Committee and Plants Committee fill gaps in biological and other specialized knowledge regarding species of animals and plants that are, or may become, subject to CITES trade controls. They undertake periodic reviews of listed species, advise when trade in a particular species may be unsustainable, and draft documents for consideration at CoPs.
The backbone of CITES is the permit system that facilitates international cooperation in conservation and trade monitoring. Permits are issued only if a country’s Management and Scientific Authorities (in the case of the United States, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) determine that trade is legal and does not threaten the species’ survival in the wild. The use of standardized permit forms, allows inspection officials at ports of export and import to quickly verify that CITES specimens are properly documented. They also facilitate the collection of species-specific trade data, which are used in the creation of annual reports. These data are used to determine trends in trade and ensure that trade in wildlife is sustainable. This trade monitoring has created a substantial body of information on the management and use of CITES species worldwide.
Banner Credits: Gears background: Sonny Abesamis CC BY 2.0; Alligator: USFWS; Primate: Vanessa Woods; Pink Lady's Slipper orchid: Thomas Barnes/University of Kentucky; Paddlefish: Tennessee Aquarium