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INTRODUCTION TO THE TRAFFIC RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE PROPOSALS TO AMEND THE CITES APPENDICES


Background
Since its establishment 40 years ago, just after the entry into force of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), TRAFFIC has held the firm view that decision-making based on the best available information on species and trade is critical to the credibility and effectiveness of this important international agreement.

One of the most fundamental decisions taken collectively by CITES member countries (Parties) is the placement of species in one of the Convention’s three Appendices, the trigger for application of specific regulatory measures and associated polices for international trade. The Parties have adopted through Res. Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16) a set of biological and trade criteria to help determine whether a species should be included in Appendices I or II and to guide precautionary measures when species are moved between or removed from the Appendices.

Recognizing the need for decisions to amend these Appendices to be based on sound information and responding to demand by numerous governments, IUCN and TRAFFIC have carried out and published technical reviews of the proposals made to each Conference of the Parties since 1987. The resulting “Analyses” document brings together a broad range of expertise on species status and biology, utilization and trade to provide as objective an assessment as possible of each amendment proposal against the requirements of the Convention, the listing criteria elaborated in Res. Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16) and other relevant CITES Resolutions and Decisions.

Sometimes the Analyses reach a firm conclusion that a given proposal meets the criteria or not, but often this is not possible because there isn’t enough information to decide or because the criteria and guidelines are not precise, or (especially in the case of Appendix-II criteria) are open to differing interpretations. In some cases, the proposed changes (notably to annotations for Appendix-II listed species) aren’t explicitly addressed in the criteria.

In addition to participation in production of the Analyses, TRAFFIC has since the mid-1980s published specific recommendations to the Parties on the amendment proposals under consideration at each Conference of the Parties.

Scope
These “Recommendations” use as their foundation the IUCN/TRAFFIC Analyses, which provide background information underpinning TRAFFIC’s advice.  However, it is important to note that TRAFFIC takes a wider perspective when formulating its Recommendations.  The basic question we try to answer is: “would a proposed change to the regulatory treatment of a species under CITES, on balance, be a good thing or not: or (in the words of Res. Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16)) would it be in the best interest of the conservation of the species concerned, and be a proportionate response to anticipated risks”.

Key issues
In taking a broader approach to identify what the best course of action might be to address the particular conservation problem raised by a proposal to amend the Appendices, TRAFFIC has identified the following key issues that underpin our advice:

Understanding the problem:
assessing the likely impact of a listing proposal requires that a trade-related conservation problem has been clearly identified.  This is not always the case and strangely it is not a requirement of the agreed format for proposals that this be clearly stated.  It is not uncommon for proposals to be made for introduction of CITES controls on international trade in a species that is not known to have been exported legally or illegally, nor to be in demand in any significant quantity.  If accepted, such listings will likely be reviewed in future under processes the Parties have adopted to remove species from the Appendices when trade is demonstrably not a problem.  TRAFFIC will point out such cases and is unlikely to offer a favourable Recommendation.

Relevance of the proposal to the problem:
assuming a clear trade-related problem has been identified, the critical question is whether the change in CITES regulation status proposed would have a positive conservation impact.  In some instances, this is clear—sometimes this may be despite uncertainty about whether the listing criteria are satisfied.  Sometimes there are grounds to believe that the impact would not be positive, for example when there is a significant mismatch between the scope of the proposal and the scope of the problem it is intended to address.  TRAFFIC’s Recommendations are based as far as possible on a holistic view of the problem and the solution offered and in some cases we may suggest ways to amend the proposal to address the problem better (assuming any recommended changes are allowed under the Rules of Procedure, which allow only for reduction, not expansion of a proposal’s scope or impact).

Being realistic: building on the previous point, it is not uncommon for proposals to be submitted to increase the level of regulation under CITES, often a transfer from Appendix II to Appendix I, because current measures are failing to deliver positive results. Usually that failure is caused by poor implementation and/or enforcement of existing national laws and trade controls or by a lack of capacity and resources. It is often unclear how such problems would be fixed simply by changing a CITES listing.  Sometimes it is claimed it would lead to stronger national legal provisions or higher regulatory priority by individual governments although the evidence for this is often weak and the costs of additional regulation are seldom taken into account.  TRAFFIC's Recommendations will endeavour to point out gaps in realism about the likelihood of positive impact and indicate what other legal or regulatory measures are needed. The Recommendations may also suggest alternative approaches to help address the problem, including measures that can be taken at the national level or action that may be taken by, for example, the Scientific or Standing Committees.     
     
Dealing with uncertainty: for many species under consideration there are major gaps in knowledge about current status, past trends and future projections of populations and trade.   The listing criteria state: “When considering proposals to amend Appendix I or II, the Parties shall, by virtue of the precautionary approach and in case of uncertainty either as regards the status of a species or the impact of trade on the conservation of a species, act in the best interest of the conservation of the species concerned and adopt measures that are proportionate to the anticipated risks to the species.”  Such a precautionary approach may therefore need to be taken, although it is critical to appreciate this does not equate to “if in doubt add a higher degree of CITES regulation”, because any change in status could have perverse consequences. Of particular importance in this regard is consideration of economic and other behavioural drivers that are not explicitly referred to in the listing criteria, but are likely to play a major role in the resulting impact of a regulatory change.  TRAFFIC will again take a holistic view taking account of both opportunities and risks of the proposals under consideration.

Beyond the listing criteria: the listing criteria provide a good basis for the Parties to determine regulatory prescriptions under CITES, but they have some important limitations. First, they are necessarily imprecise and include numerical guidelines to aid interpretation that are explicitly offered as examples, not hard thresholds. Second, there are now certain types of amendment proposals for which the criteria provide no explicit guidance—particularly the amendment of precautionary measures (quotas and other management assurances) for species earlier transferred from Appendix I to II. Third, there is a strong conservation case for adopting a wider scope of use for Appendix II listing than that explicitly provided for in the Convention text and listing criteria—CITES regulation could fill a major gap in international co-operation to avoid over-harvest and unsustainable trade in many species for which a genuine threat of extinction is unlikely (long-term depletion to levels at which further harvest effort is not worthwhile, with negative impact on ecosystem function is often the result).  TRAFFIC will base its advice on an assessment of conservation benefit and the role we believe CITES can best play in achieving a positive impact.    

New information

Although every attempt has been made to use the most recent information available, TRAFFIC recognizes that further information may become available prior to or during the meeting of the Conference of the Parties.  Our advice will be modified accordingly.

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