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Government looks to overturn 25 year ban on the importation of birds into Australia

It is difficult to comprehend why a submission process was initiated given we are experiencing a global pandemic due to the trade in wildlife…to proceed with an undertaking to overturn a 25 year ban on the importation of birds.

https://www.agriculture.gov.au/biosecurity/risk-analysis/animal/psittacine-birds

Over the last 18 months (and more) we have been educating the government on how flawed the existing trade system is. A system that hasn’t been updated since the 70s, doesn’t integrate with customs, is mostly paper-based with loopholes you can drive a Mac truck through! And so why even entertain the idea of opening up trade?

The following is our submission as to why we say NO to overturning the ban.

 

Submission to address import risk for psittacine birds from all countries

Australia has previously permitted the importation of live psittacine birds. However, the policy was suspended in 1995 due to incomplete knowledge of certain diseases of psittacine birds and a lack of suitable methods for testing imported birds for the presence of these diseases.

This ban was enacted in 1995 for a good reason and now there’s overwhelming evidence and reason to keep this ban in place.

  • Pandemic due to the trade in wildlife
  • Legal trade monitoring system that is obsolete and needs modernisation
  • Extinction crisis, driven by over-exploitation for trade purposes
  • Lack of scientific, evidence-based information

Economies are shattered and people’s lives are severely impacted due to the current pandemic being experienced globally and it is attributed to the trade in wildlife. Australia should be commended for calling for global support to investigate the cause of the current virus but in the interim, why isn’t there a moratorium on trade in endangered species, in fact trade in all wildlife until the findings are released?

Whilst WHO investigates the world’s response to Covid-19, we must acknowledge that wet markets in China are just a microcosm of the ever-increasing trade in wildlife. The legal trade in wildlife is one of the most lucrative trades in the world and yet it is managed using a mostly paper-based permit system that hasn’t been updated since the 70’s.

Along with our collaborative partners Nature Needs More, we have met with Ministers, MPs and representatives in the Australian Government (as well as more than 30 signatory countries including the EU) in urgently addressing the flaws in the existing trade system. Modernising this system to deal with current trade volumes and conditions is critical in addressing the trade in psittacine birds.

Along with many other organisations and concerned citizens, we also provided overwhelming evidence at the Parliamentary Inquiry on Law Enforcement into the domestic trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn demonstrating flaws in the legal trade system under CITES and that currently there is no supply chain transparency. Similarly, there is no real-time trade analytics, so any responses to laundering and illegal activity, if it is picked up, is in the main too slow.

There is a desperate need to modernise the trade mechanism that is severely under-resourced, mostly paper-based, doesn’t integrate with customs and lacks traceability and trackability. Until the trade system has been updated (as a start eCITES BaseSolution created by UNCTAD with CITES and the Swiss and Sri Lankan Governments) and rolled out globally, it would be detrimental for multiple reasons in entertaining overturning this ban.

The legal and illegal trade is so intertwined that they are functionally inseparable, to continue trade knowing this would be reckless.

What is also alarming and has been raised with the CITES Secretariate is that source codes on permits are often designated as source code C (captive bred), when research shows that there is no evidence of any captive breeding facilities in the export countries documented. How can we be assured that imported birds aren’t wild caught?

CITES needs to be modernised to cope with the vastly increased volume of the legal trade and to close the loopholes used by the burgeoning illegal trade. This requires a three step approach:

STEP 1

Global roll out of electronic permitting at a cost of US$30 million for all 183 signatory countries before next CITES CoP in 2022

Until a global roll out of electronic permitting, additional trade in wildlife including vulnerable and endangered species should not be considered or granted license.

Whilst Australia does have an electronic permit system, its lack of interoperability or interaction with a global trade system such as eCITES BaseSolution, shows that it isn’t useful in regards to international trade. This was clearly demonstrated with the export of endangered birds from Western Australia to Germany (still under investigation). Even with Australia boasting its sophisticated electronic system, cockatoos were issued permits to be exported from Western Australia to an unscrupulous zoo in Germany with no evidence to clearly prove that the birds weren’t wild caught or that the destination was indeed a proper zoo. If we don’t have processes to alleviate illegally caught wild species, then how can we expect this from countries with no regulators or processes in place? If a global electronic, real-time permit system was in place, then a red flag would have been raised and permits would never have been issued.

STEP 2

Adopt reverse listing approach

In 1981 Australia proposed a reverse listing approach, understanding and exposing the inherent risks in the forming years of CITES. Given business works quarter by quarter and is always miles ahead in creating new markets, the glacially slow response by governments and conservation within the processes of CITES has seen trade grow exponentially. Trade is the 2nd biggest driver of extinction in terrestrial species and the biggest driver in marine species and a new listing approach is long overdue.

The proposal wasn’t accepted in 1981 when there were 700 species listed. Since then the listing has grown to 38,500 species (soon to be a million according to the IPBES Report published last year). Under a reverse listing approach the default position is no commercial trade and the burden of proof that trade is sustainable shifts from governments and NGOs to industry. This does not mean that industry will dictate the framework and criteria for what constitutes ‘ecologically sustainable use’ and what can be traded. Listings would still be subject to a vote at CoP, in line with current process.

STEP 3

Apply a levy on trade

Given the global trade in endangered species is worth US$320 billion a year, a 1-2% levy on trade would significantly help fund the under-resourced trade and enforcement process. In the first instance, a levy (or similar) on industry (importers, not exporters) to cover the cost of rolling out the electronic permit system globally and to create and maintain a real-time reporting system.

 

Zoonotic diseases have and continue to impact humans as demonstrated in the following diagram, but there’s worrying impact on other species. As an example, reported on the 27 August this year the slaughter of more than 340,000 layer hens, plus culling of emus and turkeys as there are three strains of bird flu active at the same time in the state of Victoria resulting in an expected loss of $18 – $23 million affecting six farms. This virus is reported to be particularly virulent and aggressive. Importing birds when it is clear there’s overwhelming fragility amongst avian populations only adds incredible pressure to the existing populations whether they be farmed or wild.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-27/emus-and-chickens-being-culled-as-bird-flu-in-victoria-worsens/12601422

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-18/victorian-bird-flu-outbreak-raises-concerns-free-range-farming/12669544

How can the government guarantee that imported birds won’t be released? Catastrophic for our wild species who are already under enormous pressure due to habitat loss, bushfires, weather events, poaching, etc. We are in an extinction event and it is reckless to continue the “business as usual” approach.

What is also requiring attention is the reporting of government and industry-employed ecologists and conservation scientists who have experienced undue modification of reports, blocks on releasing or discussing information in regards to the plight of threatened species. Can we trust that this review will be fair and reasonable or should we wait until there is a national independent watchdog?

Calling for submissions when there’s overwhelming evidence and sentiment for a trade ban given the current climate, is wasting valuable resources not only within the government but in calling on civil society, conservation groups and charities to yet again remind the government to apply the precautionary principle, given the devastating decline in so many species we’re witnessing a catastrophic freefall. We are in an extinction event and how can we alleviate the ever-increasing pressures on wildlife – lifting bans is not one of them.

Many macaws, parrots and cockatoos are listed as endangered, with many extinct due to rapid rates of habitat loss, hunting and exotic pet trade and yet we are entertaining the possibility of reopening trade for psittacine birds…it is mind-blowing.

 

The commodification and consumption of wild species and the natural world has seen humans breach boundaries with devastating consequences, our lack of respect for nature is our own undoing, our ecology in desperate need of respite. If we cannot curb our consumption and the continued trade in every living thing, then it will be our own extinction if we cannot learn from this pandemic and the recent bushfires which have presented a very loud and clear warning.

At the recent 2020 High Level Political Forum all UN Member States recommitted to “protecting wildlife and other living species”, taking action to end cross-border trade in wildlife to be an effective first step towards delivering this commitment.

 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2351989418302312

https://www.traffic.org/news/new-studies-highlight-critical-issues-for-cites-implementation/