Top Priorities for the United States at CoP16

Polar Bears


Credit: USFWS

Habitat loss, coupled with the threats of commercial trade, pollution, and disease, paints a bleak picture for the future of polar bears.  Each year, an average of 3,200 items made from polar bears – including skins, claws, and teeth – are reported to be exported or re-exported from range countries. Polar bear hides sell for an average of $2,000 to $5,000, while maximum hide prices have topped $12,000.

The United States has put forward a proposal to include polar bears in Appendix I of CITES.  We will advocate for the adoption of this proposal, which would restrict trade for commercial purposes, eliminating one of the threats to polar bears and giving this iconic species a better chance for survival.

The Outcome: A proposal to transfer polar bears from Appendix II to Appendix I, submitted by the United States, was defeated.

The European Union (EU) presented an amendment to the U.S. proposal that would have maintained polar bears in Appendix II with an annotation requiring range states to set export quotas at sustainable levels. The United States asserted that this amendment would essentially maintain the status quo and would not curb the unsustainable commercial trade in polar bear parts and products. The amendment, which was voted on prior to voting on the U.S. proposal, was rejected.


Elephants and Rhinos


Credit: USFWS

Elephant and rhino poaching have reached crisis levels across parts of Africa. South Africa lost 668 rhinos in 2012 and Cameroon experienced the mass killing of at least 200 elephants in a span of just a few months. In the recent past, CITES has been an effective tool in the fight to curtail poaching of these remarkable species and illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn. An international ban on the ivory trade implemented in 1989 aided in the recovery of the African elephant. Likewise, Southern white rhino populations rose dramatically in South Africa in part due to very strict controls over international trade in rhino horn.  However, more recently, poaching and illegal trade have risen dramatically, strongly influenced by international crime syndicates supplying the market, moving goods across well-established networks. Elephants and rhinos are prominently featured on the agenda for CoP16, with a number of recommendations that would strengthen regulatory controls and enhance global enforcement efforts.

The United States will play a leadership role to promote and enhance these actions, identify innovative methods to tackle these challenges, and hold countries accountable for implementing them.

The Outcome: Success!

The CITES member nations, referred to as “Parties,” strengthened controls on ivory trade by creating an Ivory Enforcement Task Force, increasing monitoring of and cooperative investigative actions regarding illegal ivory trade, and adopting a series of country-specific, time-bound actions for those countries that are most implicated as source, transit or consumer countries for illegal ivory trade.

In addition, at today's Standing Committee meeting, we expect that agreement will be reached to require the top 8 countries implicated in illegal ivory trade to develop action plans with timelines and deadlines. These actions plans will address gaps in their regulatory regimes to more effectively address poaching and illegal ivory trade, with compliance actions for failure to develop these plans and implement them.

The CITES Parties agreed to a series of actions for both rhino range States and consumer countries to more effectively combat poaching and illegal rhino horn trade, including country-specific, time-bound actions particularly focusing on Mozambique and Vietnam.


Marine species taken on the high seas


Credit: NOAA

Many internationally traded marine species migrate long distances and often cross national boundaries. Their conservation can only be achieved by working collaboratively with other nations. CITES-listed animals or plants taken on the high seas are subject to CITES trade provisions. Parties must implement these provisions whenever an Appendix-I or -II specimen is taken from the high seas and transported into a country; this trade is referred to as “introduction from the sea.”  However, to date, the Parties have not reached a common understanding of how to implement CITES introduction-from-the-sea provisions.

The United States will advocate for the adoption of a draft resolution that would clarify CITES  implementation for marine species taken on the high seas, thereby improving compliance and allowing CITES to be a more effective tool in preserving marine species.

The Outcome: Success! The CITES Parties adopted a resolution and related decisions clarifying CITES implementation for marine species taken on the high seas, thereby improving compliance and allowing CITES to be a more effective tool in preserving marine species. The United States was actively involved in the development of this resolution and related decisions and was a strong proponent for its passage.


Sharks and Manta Rays


Credit: NOAA

The international demand for shark meat, shark fins for shark fin soup, and ray gill plates for traditional Asian medicines threatens the survival of some shark and ray species. The most recent estimate shows that globally, on average 38 million sharks are traded annually for their fins.  Sharks and manta rays are important to ocean ecosystems, and the United States is concerned about the conservation status of species that are increasingly affected by international trade.  Proposals have been put forth to include several species of sharks and rays –oceanic whitetip, porbeagle, and three species of hammerhead, and manta rays – in CITES Appendix II, to control trade at biologically sustainable levels.

Colombia, along with the United States and Brazil, have submitted a proposal to include oceanic whitetip sharks in CITES Appendix II.  We will advocate for adoption of this proposal as well as all shark and manta ray proposals on the CoP16 agenda.

The Outcome: Success! CITES Parties adopted all proposals put forth for sharks and manta rays. Colombia, along with the United States and Brazil, submitted the proposal to include oceanic whitetip sharks in CITES Appendix II. The United States strongly supported all proposals to list sharks and manta rays in CITES Appendix II. Several countries attempted to reopen these proposals for discussion in the plenary session. However, these motions did not receive the required 1/3 vote to reopen debate, and the decisions to list sharks and manta rays were adopted without further discussion in the plenary.


Tortoises and freshwater turtles


Credit: Turtle Survival Alliance

The global commerce in turtles in the last 20+ years has followed a well-known pattern in international wildlife trade – once a species is depleted or regulated, the trade shifts to other species that are not as threatened or are less regulated.  In Asia, turtles are used primarily as food and in traditional medicines, although a growing pet trade across the region impacts a number of threatened species. The export of some native U.S. freshwater turtles is also of concern.

The United States has sponsored or co-sponsored eight proposals, covering 47 species, to improve the regulation of trade in tortoises and freshwater turtles.  We will advocate for the adoption of all of these proposals to provide broad-scale protection to freshwater turtles and tortoises and prevent the successive depletion of these turtles, species by species.

The Outcome: Success! CITES Parties voted to increase protections for 44 species of Asian freshwater turtles and tortoises and three species of North American pond turtles. The United States jointly submitted with China two proposals to increase CITES protection for a number of Asian softshell and hardshell turtle species. These proposals included new additions to the Appendices, “uplisting” species from Appendix II to Appendix I, and the setting of zero export quotas. These proposals were agreed by consensus with strong support voiced by range States, Thailand, Japan, India, Pakistan, Liberia, Indonesia, and non-range states, Guinea and Paraguay. Proposals to transfer species from Appendix II to Appendix I were also agreed by consensus—a proposal for big-headed turtles, jointly submitted by the United States and Viet Nam, and a U.S. proposal for Burmese star tortoise. A proposal for the Roti Island snake-necked turtle was agreed by consensus after being amended to maintain the species on CITES Appendix II with a zero export quota for wild specimens—effectively banning international commercial trade in turtles taken from the wild.


Musical Instruments:


Credit: Francesco Lodolo

Musical instruments may contain parts or products of CITES-listed animal and plant species, such as Brazilian rosewood or elephant ivory.  Under current CITES requirements, musicians who travel internationally with their instruments must obtain an export permit from each country that they visit.

The United States has proposed a “passport” program that would allow for frequent travel across international borders with the issuance of just one document, making it easier for musicians to travel internationally with their instruments.

The Outcome: Success! The U.S. proposal to create a musical instrument "passport" program was adopted by consensus.



Timber Species

Credit: Eric Miraglia CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Approximately 350 tree species, some of which are important timber species such as ramin and bigleaf mahogany, are listed in the CITES Appendices.  Including additional tree species in CITES and strengthening CITES implementation for timber species is necessary to ensure that international trade in these species is legal and sustainable and does not threaten their survival.  

The United States will support efforts to strengthen implementation of current timber species listings and will work with countries such as Belize, Brazil, Madagascar, Thailand, and Viet Nam to ensure that their proposals for new timber species listings are given full consideration and, if they if they meet the criteria for listing in the CITES Appendices, that they are adopted.

The Outcome: Success! The CITES Parties adopted a number of new listings of timber species in the CITES Appendices at CoP16. These include proposals put forward by Madagascar to list their native populations of rosewood and ebony in Appendix II and proposals by Belize, supported by other range countries, to list three species of Neotropical rosewood. These new listings will strongly support the efforts of these countries to ensure that international trade is conducted legally and in a sustainable manner. 

The United States also supports the decision of CoP16, led by the Latin American countries, to continue the work of the Working Group on Neotropical Tree Species under the CITES Plants Committee. The specific terms of the working group will not be defined until the next meeting of the CITES Plants Committee, to be held in 2014, but the work plan will include supporting range countries in improving their capacity to implement the CITES tree listings and sharing experiences on best forest management practices. As one of the largest importers of timber from the Neotropics, the United States is committed to working with the range countries in ensuring that this important timber trade is conducted legally and that the species, including valuable species of mahogany and rosewood, are sustainably managed. The United States has long participated in CITES timber working groups, and looks forward to continuing as an active participant in this work, with its newly expanded mandate to consider not just species that are traded for wood, but also species that are traded for commodities such as essential oils used in the manufacture of perfumes.


Openness and Transparency


Credit: Frank Kohn/USFWS

The United States is committed to promoting openness and transparency in CITES processes and decision making, because we believe that these principles strengthen and encourage efficiency, accountability, and effectiveness. The United States has long been concerned, for example, about the increasingly frequent use of secret ballots at CoPs, particularly for votes on species listing proposals. Likewise, we are concerned about the potential for conflicts of interest among CITES decision-makers.

The United States will work closely with like-minded Parties to promote greater openness and transparency within CITES.

The Outcome: A work in progress....Votes are taken by secret ballot if proposed by one country and seconded by just ten others. The European Union introduced a document that would require a simple majority of the Parties for a secret ballot vote. Chile and Mexico introduced a document that would require 1/3 of the Parties to call for a secret ballot. These proposals were both rejected, ironically, by a secret ballot vote. The United States has had a longstanding practice to announce its vote immediately after each secret ballot. At past CoPs, this practice has been mirrored by only a couple of other Parties. However, it became increasingly apparent over the course of the two-week meeting that CITES Parties did want a more open and transparent process. After a secret ballot vote on the hammerhead shark proposal, 47 nations requested the floor to announce how they had voted. This was a clear demonstration from an increasingly large contingent of CITES Parties to increase the openness and transparency of the Convention. Finally, a resolution on conflicts of interest, adopted by consensus, will ensure that Scientific Committee members do not have conflicting financial interests that could influence their views and advice to the Convention.


CITES Implementation


Credit: USFWS

CITES is only as effective as the commitment that each member country puts into effective implementation and enforcement of the Convention. The CoP16 agenda provides several opportunities to encourage CITES Parties to do more to make the Convention effective. Though, even with a strengthened framework, implementation and enforcement activities can only be carried out with appropriate funding.  CITES is exploring new sources of funding to ensure the proper operation of the Convention.

The United States is committed to strengthening the framework of CITES by evaluating national laws, resolving inconsistencies in implementation, working on innovative collaborations to combat wildlife crime, and identifying funding sources to promote and enhance CITES implementation globally.

The Outcome: Success! Based on a proposal by the United States, the Parties agreed to strong, time-bound measures to encourage countries that have not yet adopted national legislation to effectively implement CITES to do so, as soon as possible. Countries that fail to adopt appropriate legislation will be subject to compliance measures. The United States believes that robust national CITES legislation is essential for effective global implementation of the Convention. The Parties also agreed to a resolution on non-detriment findings that will assist Parties in ensuring that wildlife trade is conducted in a sustainable manner. Also, despite challenging fiscal constraints, the Parties agreed by consensus to a budget that would continue to maintain the CITES Secretariat at its current staffing levels.