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More CITES background on process and procedure October 05, 2004 4:24 AM

The 13th Conference of Parties (CoP13) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species opened in Bangkok last Saturday, with participants all set to deliberate on some 50 proposals to update trade rules. HILARY CHIEW looks into the arguments in support of the listing of several species.

FOR the first time in its near 30-year history, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) opened in Bangkok – one of the world’s thriving capitals for wildlife trade – last Saturday. The 13-day meet will see the participation of government officials from 166 member nations, wildlife conservationists and the boisterous animal activists.

There is concern that the ‘one-off’ sale arrangement of African elephant ivory, approved at CoP12, has led to poaching.

Bringing the meeting to this region is made all the more significant with the inclusion of Laos early this year into the world’s foremost conservation treaty governing wildlife. It would also spell full participation from Asean in the inter-governmental agreement that regulates global trade on selected species of flora and fauna, estimated to be worth billions of dollars annually.

Since the convention was signed in Washington DC in 1973 by an initial 80 countries and entered into force in 1975, trade in more than 30,000 wildlife species is currently being regulated under three appendices aimed at promoting sustainable use.

Appendix I applies the most stringent controls on species threatened with extinction, Appendix II regulates trade that could potentially lead to the extinction of certain species, while Appendix III includes species listed by an individual country in an effort to enlist international cooperation to control trade from their country. As the impact of trade makes itself felt on a population or species, the species can be added or removed from the appendices, or transferred from one appendix to another. A two-thirds vote from parties is needed to effect any amendments to the Appendices.

Over the years, Cites has fine-tuned the criteria it uses for listing a species. It puts the onus on the proposing government to make its case on the basis of scientific criteria. To do this, the government must provide as much detailed information and data as possible on population status and trade trends.

It is worth noting that when a species is transferred to a lower category, this does not necessarily mean that it is accorded less protection. Rather, it can be a sign of success that a species’ population has recovered to the point where well-regulated trade, using a Cites trade permit, may be possible.

Cites also argues that by allowing a species to be commercially traded at sustainable levels, an Appendix II listing can actually enhance protection by giving local people a greater stake in the species’ survival.

While high-profile species like the African elephant and whales that had hogged previous debates, are expected to take up substantial deliberation time at the conference in Bangkok, delegates will also decide on the appropriate level of protection to be accorded to less majestic but equally threatened species in world trade.

These include the great white shark, the ramin timber tree, the Chinese yew (a medicinal shrub), the yellow-crested cockatoo and the lilac-crowned parrot, five Asian turtles, the white rhinoceros, the Nile and American crocodiles and the European date mussel.

Out of the 50 proposals, several are of direct concern to Malaysia, the first South-East Asian country to accede to the convention in 1977.

Ed. Note: It's ironic that as an endangered specie makes any headway in it's struggle to regain it's numbers, someone deems them "satisfactory" to be downgraded and the vicious cycle continues. ~M.A.

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