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 Scientific Authority and Management Authority to carry out the treaty. The Scientific Authority determines whether trade in a particular animal or plant species could be detrimental to its survival in the wild, and the Management Authority ensures that CITES-listed species are traded legally through the issuance of permits. 

Protecting Species from Unsustainable Trade

Cacti, iguanas, and parrots represent some of the 40,900 species – including roughly 6,610 species of animals and 34,310 species of plants – currently 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.

Permits enable 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.

Working Together to Implement CITES

Collectively, the member countries to CITES are referred to as the Conference of the Parties (CoP). Approximately every two to three years, a meeting of the 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 meeting.

Established advisory committees provide policy guidance and technical support to the Secretariat and the CoP. These committees meet between CoP meetings, often developing documents to inform the decision-making process.

Non-governmental organizations, representing conservation, animal welfare, trade, zoological, botanical, and scientific interests, can also participate as non-voting observers at CoP meetings and Standing, Animals, and Plants Committee meetings.

U.S. Delegation to the 1st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP1) held in Bern, Switzerland, 1976