Early morning mists rise over the Harapan Rainforest, Sumatra, Indonesia

The CITES trade regulation

CITES is designed to prevent excessive and unrestricted international trade in wildlife.

What is CITES?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a trade regulation designed to prevent excessive and unrestricted international trade in wildlife threatening the survival of species in the wild.

More than 160 countries are now signatories to the agreement including the UK and all the other EU member states.

CITES regulates trade only in certain species of wild fauna and flora. This includes import, export and re-export of wild plants and animals and parts and products derived from them such as medicines and skins. Animal and plant species are subject to different levels of controls depending on how threatened they are in the wild. This is achieved by listing them on three Appendices.

Species listed on Appendix I are considered threatened with extinction, and all wild specimens are banned from trade. This appendix includes charismatic mammals such as giant pandas, elephants and rhinoceroses as well as rare birds such as Lear’s macaw and Bali starling.

Appendix II species are those that are considered vulnerable to commercial activities and trade is controlled under a system of permits. This list includes some of the most widely traded species on earth such as the grey parrot. Article IV of CITES requires that exporting countries restrict trade in Appendix II species to levels that are not detrimental to the species’ survival or to their role within their ecosystems.

Appendix III species are those whose trade is regulated by all signatories at the request of one or more countries. This list includes a large number of commonly traded African finches and waxbills.

Species on these appendices can be altered at the Conference of the Parties every few years. In the interim period, if any are suspected of being subject to unsustainable levels of trade this can be investigated through the Significant Trade Review process, and sanctions or quotas can be imposed on countries that fail to ignore recommendations. (see CITES website, linked from this page)

EU CITES regulations

The EU has implemented CITES in the Wildlife Trade Regulations (EC338/97). The regulation lists species in a series of Annexes (A,B and C) which broadly correspond to CITES Appendices I, II, and III. However, the EU Annexes up-list some species from a lower appendix and include certain non-CITES species of European concern. For example, all native European birds of prey and owls are listed in Annex A, although they are not all on Appendix I. 

In addition, there are implementation and enforcement provisions, provisions to restrict trade in invasive species and the institution of a monitoring annex for species that might be eligible for inclusion in the Annexes. 

The regulation also allows the EU to impose quotas or temporarily restrict the import of species for which conservation concerns have been raised through a body known as the Scientific Review Group (SRG) (see Wildlife trade in the EU website, linked from this page).

UK CITES regulations

The Control of Trade in Endangered Species (Enforcement) Regulations 1997 (COTES) established a series of offences and penalties for infringements of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations within the UK. 

It primarily covers trade, including import, export and sale of  wildlife and wildlife products of species listed on Annexes A and B of the EU regulations and the misuse and forgery of permits. 

COTES offences carry a maximum of five years’ imprisonment.

How you can help

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