CITES review is long overdue

After an incredible trip to the UK and continental EU, meeting with members of parliament and heads of CITES in several countries with Lynn Johnson and Peter Lanius of Nature Needs More, we return inspired by the interest and commitment in continuing the conversation.

Before heading into meeting with Owen Paterson MP, London.

In short, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) hasn’t been reviewed for 25 years. We can’t imagine any treaty or organisation not assessing its processes for that amount of time. We also know that there’s an agenda item on the table for the upcoming CoP which calls for a review, but given it’s been tabled by Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia and Zimbabwe, we can only speculate that it will be to liberalise trade. From our perspective, how could it be possible to make the existing trade base more liberal?

The last 18 months has seen an increased global focus on wildlife crime, as new estimates regarding the massive scale of illegal trafficking were published in the World Customs Organisation 2017 Illicit Trade Report. This report highlighted the estimated profit from the illegal trade in flora and fauna to be between $91- 258 billion USD per year, and according to the United Nations Environment Programme, growing at 2-3 times the pace of the global economy. The report concluded environmental crime the fourth largest transnational crime, after drug trafficking, counterfeiting and people trafficking.

International organised crime uses the systemic loopholes in the legal trade system which is regulated by the CITES. Only national governments (and the EU), which are signatories to CITES, can propose the necessary changes to fix the flaws in the current system and strike decisively against the illegal trade.

Meeting with Owen Paterson MP with (L-R) Dr Peter Lanius of Nature Needs More, Owen Paterson MP, Donalea Patman of For the Love of Wildlife and Dr Lynn Johnson of Nature Needs More.

CITES now lists more than 36,000 species for trade restrictions, making identification and enforcement an impossible task for national law enforcement and customs bodies. Within the CITES framework the only solution to this escalating problem is to change the listing regime to default to a ‘reverse listing’ mode, i.e. listing only species in which trade is permitted. This is not a new idea…in fact it was first put forward by Australia in 1981 to the CITES Conference of Parties in New Delhi. At the time only 700 species were listed for trade restrictions and it was perhaps unsurprising that the proposal failed to garner sufficient support.
Set up as a non-self-executing treaty, CITES today lacks the funding to help poorer countries implement effective electronic permitting systems that are integrated with global customs systems, which is essential to close the loopholes exploited by traffickers. We propose that a small trade levy on the $320 billion USD per year trade conducted legally under CITES rules could help raise the necessary funds and make the overall system tamper-proof, traceable and transparent.

CITES has core funding of around $6 million a year which isn’t reasonable given the size of the legal trade. In our discussions we heard that there’s an expectation that a philanthropic donation will arrive on the doorstep to properly fund the existing system and update and implement the e-permitting system but we have to pragmatic and real here and say that we cannot wait for a knight on a white horse to rock up in Geneva and solve the lack of resources. If industry is able to privatise all the profits then it must be expected to pay a levy to resource CITES, it’s not a new idea and it happens globally. What are we waiting for?

The beautiful town centre clock in Bern…does wildlife have the luxury of time?

For the Love of Wildlife and Nature Needs More will again engage the Australian Government now we have come through the election and also continue our work in collaborating globally to address the extinction crisis. We are back in Canberra in a couple of weeks and we look forward to keeping you up-to-date leading up to CITES CoP18.

If you wish to support us in our critically important work, please contact us. Or if you wish to work with your Government in country, we’d like to hear from you.


Bern, Switzerland.

Bern, Switzerland.

Golden elephant was on display in the town centre of Bern.


European Union, Brussels.


The Hague, Netherlands.

The Hague, Netherlands.

Stockholm, Sweden.

Stockholm, Sweden not far from where Greta Thunberg is often seen protesting.

Belgium Senate.

The ceiling of the Belgium Senate.

Lions are woven into the fabric of the Senate chairs, Belgium.

The call for an ivory ban continues throughout Europe. Here we’re with Heike Henderson Altenstein and the Future For Elephants volunteers near the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin.