Today the EU becomes the 181st party to join the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The Convention covers more than 35 000 animal species and plants, ensuring that trade remains legal and sustainable.
Further to a public consultation launched in 2014, the European Commission services have started the preparatory work for an EU Action Plan against wildlife trafficking, for which the EU accession to CITES constitutes an important milestone.
The aim of the Convention is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Wildlife trafficking has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, becoming an important source of financing for transnational organised crime and the fourth largest illegal business in the world, after drugs, weapons and human trafficking. Joining CITES makes the EU a stronger global actor. Now the priority is to strengthen the Convention and the fight against wildlife trafficking.
Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs said: "Drugs, weapons, human trafficking and wildlife trafficking use the same illegal networks. Joining the CITES Convention is a big step in the preparation of our action plan to step up the fight against wildlife trafficking. CITES is the best response the international community has in the fight against wildlife criminals and their illegal, unsustainable trade. It allows us to use the expertise gained in dismantling other illegal networks".
International agencies such as Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime work with the Convention, and have stepped up their engagement against transnational organised crime in this field. The CITES Convention means that trade sanctions can be taken as a last resort if Parties repeatedly fail to meet their obligations.
As well as covering exotic species, CITES also protects European species such as lynx, bears, wolves and eels.
Wildlife trafficking has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, becoming the fourth largest illegal business in the world. Only drugs, weapons and human trafficking are larger. More than 20 000 elephants and 1200 rhinoceroses were killed in 2014 and, after years of recovery, their populations are once more in decline. Species such as sharks, tigers, great apes, turtles, pangolins, corals and tropical timber are being traded illegally to meet a rising demand worldwide.
The EU has been a major supporter of the CITES Convention for many years, through funding for capacity-building programmes, especially in relation to marine and timber species, as well as against elephant poaching and ivory trade.
For more information:
On the EU approach to combat wildlife trafficking: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/trafficking_en.htm
On the EU Accession to CITES: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/gaborone_en.htm