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European Union (EU) Wildlife Trade Initiative

In 1980, when TRAFFIC established its first European national office, much wildlife trade in Europe was unregulated, many countries were not Parties to CITES, and even when wildlife trade laws did exist, they were often not well enforced.

TRAFFIC’s work with the EU has therefore assisted governments and enforcement agencies in improving wildlife trade regulations and law enforcement activities.

EU and wildlife trade
The 27 Member States of the European Union (EU) form one of the three largest wildlife consumer markets in the world, (alongside the USA and Japan).

Millions of live animals and plants are imported every year, including parrots from South America, caviar from the Caspian Sea, reptiles from Africa and orchids from Southeast Asia.

A huge variety of wildlife products including shoes or bags made of reptile skin, timber products such as furniture and dried plants used in medicines are in high demand by EU consumers.

This trade is regulated globally by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which is implemented in the EU through the European Community (EC) Wildlife Trade Regulations and national laws.

Well-regulated and legal trade can bring benefits to local people, local economies and conservation. For example, the EU imports 95% of exported Vicuña wool, providing significant income for 700,000 people in impoverished Andean communities in Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Chile. Sustainable development of the Vicuña wool trade has been supported by Italy, Germany and the EC.

Volume and value
TRAFFIC estimated the legal trade of wildlife products into the EU alone was worth an estimated €93 billion in 2005, and this increased to nearly €100 billion in 2009.

TRAFFIC estimates that from 2000–2005, 3.4 million lizard, 2.9 million crocodile, and 3.4 million snake skins, all species listed under CITES, were imported into the EU, along with 300,000 live snakes for the pet trade plus 424 tonnes of sturgeon caviar—more than half of all global imports—and, in 2004 alone, more than 10 million cubic metres of tropical timber from Africa, South America and Asia, worth €1.2 billion.

However, not all the trade is legal: between 2003 and 2004, EU enforcement authorities made more than 7,000 seizures, totaling over 3.5 million CITES-listed specimens, while between 2005 and 2009 EU enforcement authorities made over 12,000 seizures of illegal wildlife products.

EU Action Plan
In December 2006, EU Environment Ministers formally acknowledged the need for EU assistance in promoting the conservation and sustainable use of wildlife in developing countries and effective implementation of the CITES Convention.

In June 2007, the EC launched an Action Plan to improve wildlife trade enforcement within the EU and, crucially, in countries where the trade originates.

Key tools

A reference guide to the European Union Wildlife Trade Regulations (PDF, 1.5 MB) (February 2013).

EU-TWIX “EU Trade in Wildlife Information eXchange”, an EU enforcers’ intranet run by TRAFFIC for exchanging information on wildlife seizures across all 27 Member States. EU-TWIX information leaflet (PDF, 2.3 MB)

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