Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species Cites

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is an international agreement regulating trade in certain species of wild animals and plants, as well as their parts and derivatives. Approved in 1973 in Washington, DC, CITES came into effect in 1975. With more than 150 parties, it is one of the largest conservation agreements. States comply voluntarily, although the Convention is legally binding upon its parties, who must adopt national legislation to implement it.

CITES was originally aimed at developing countries, where wildlife trade is important to supplement peoples' income but where it was often unregulated. The annual global trade in wildlife and plants is now worth billions of dollars, involving hundreds of millions of specimens. CITES seeks to stop trade in endangered species, but also to prevent other species from becoming endangered.

The Convention regulates import, export, and transport of species and their products. Over 30,000 species are now listed, in three appendices that indicate the degree of their vulnerability. Appendix I species are rare or endangered; trade is not permitted except in certain circumstances. Appendix II species could become rare or endangered if trade were not regulated; trade in these species must be accompanied by permits from the exporting country. Appendix III species are not endangered, but they are managed within the listing nation, and trade is also controlled by permits. Permits are issued only for legally traded specimens, and if they are traded or transported live, only if the specimen will be shipped so as to ensure health and humaneness.

The implication of CITES for Arctic peoples is that while it responds to a real need in global biodiversity conservation, it can reflect the value-differences that pervade the debates about aboriginal uses of wildlife. Northern hunting products and by-products, such as furs, ivory, and whalebone all require CITES permits to enter the European Economic Community, even though they may not come from endangered populations. Animal rights activists are increasingly influencing CITES decisions, with the controversial elephant ivory ban in 1989 serving as a warning to Arctic peoples that even well-managed harvests of charismatic animals (such as certain African countries' elephant herds) are subject to closure as if they are unsustainable.

Conservation biologists recognize that most species extinctions occur as a result of habitat loss rather than hunting. Given the nature of land use in the Arctic regions, such habitat loss is unlikely, except in certain locales/seasons such as, perhaps, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the Yamal Peninsula gas fields, where calving caribou or migrating reindeer may be affected. Of the relatively few Arctic species listed as threatened, endangered or vulnerable, most are whales or marine mammals that were brought to that status by nonnative or southern resource exploitation.

The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK, formerly Inuit Tapirisat of Canada) monitors CITES activities to ensure that only those species that are really endangered become listed. ITK notes no immediate conflicts between Inuit and CITES, but that beluga whales in certain regions of the Arctic and walrus are being monitored by CITES and therefore by the Inuit. Should these species be listed, it could seriously affect Inuit livelihoods.

The Inuit Circumpolar Conference response to CITES, in its Comprehensive Arctic Policy, states clearly that Inuit will watch the scope and intent of CITES rulings:

... Inuit should continue to monitor and otherwise participate at CITES meetings. In this way, unjustified attempts to use the Convention to unfairly restrict native harvesting and trade may be effectively countered ...

The continuing significance of whales, polar bears, seals, and other marine mammals to Inuit, as a coastal aboriginal people, must be appropriately recognized.

Heather Myers

Further Reading

CITES website: www.cites/org/eng/whatis.shtml Checklist of CITES Species: A Reference to the Appendices to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora 1998, WCMC, Cambridge: WCMC, Geneva: CITES Secretariat, 1998 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, Washington, March 3, 1973. London: Her Majesty's Parliament, 1973 Hemley, Ginette (editor), International Wildlife Trade: A CITES Sourcebook, Washington, District of Columbia: World Wildlife Fund/Island Press, 1994 Text of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora: signed March 3, 1973; entered into force July 1, 1975, US Fish and Wildlife Service; Office of Management Authority, Arlington, Virginia,1997

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