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European Commission - Fact Sheet

Questions and answers on the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking

Brussels, 26 February 2016

Today the European Commission adopted an EU Action Plan to crack down on wildlife trafficking within the EU and strengthen the EU's role in the global fight against these illegal activities.

Why do we need an EU Action Plan against Wildlife trafficking?

Wildlife trafficking is one of the most profitable criminal activities worldwide generating between EUR 8 and EUR 20 billion annually. Organized criminal groups are poaching and smuggling millions of specimens of often highly endangered animals and plants to their customers, using professional equipment and sophisticated networks. Ivory, rhino horn, tiger products, tropical timber and exotic birds are among the most valuable wildlife products found on the black market, but many other species are also concerned, including reptiles and pangolins. The key factor for the increased level and sophistication in those criminal activities is increasing demand for wildlife products, notably in Asia, which has driven up prices steeply. Other factors include poverty, corruption, a lack of resources for enforcement, and low sanction levels due to lack of awareness. As a funding source for militia and terrorist groups in parts of Africa, wildlife trafficking is fuelling conflicts and is hence a security concern. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is notably suspected of being involved in ivory trafficking in Central Africa to sustain their activities. It is estimated that 1000 rangers have been killed during anti-poaching operations in the last ten years around the world.

Why is wildlife trafficking a concern for the EU?

Wildlife trafficking undermines EU efforts to address pressing global problems. It is one of the most serious threats to biodiversity. The survival of a number of species in the wild is directly jeopardised by poaching and the associated illegal trade. Wildlife trafficking also undermines many key goals in EU foreign policy and development support, including sustainable development, the rule of law, good governance and peace and stability.

The EU is also directly affected by wildlife trafficking, as a major market for illegal wildlife products.

The wildlife products the most commonly seized in the EU are:

  • Live reptiles, especially tortoises, but also lizards, chameleons, snakes, iguanas and geckos. Over 6000 live reptiles were seized at the EU borders during the period 2011-2014;
  • Reptile bodies, parts and derivatives, with a total of over 9600 individual items seized for the period 2011-2014. The majority of them were reptile skin and leather products from snakes, crocodiles and lizards;
  • Mammal bodies, parts and derivatives (skins in particular), including bears, wolves, big cats and bush meat;
  • Live birds and eggs, with a total of over 500 specimens seized during the period 2011-2014, mostly parrots smuggled from Africa or Latin America to Europe via transit countries, which attract very high prices on the black market, as well as birds of prey;
  • Medicinal products derived from animals (seahorses, musk dear, pangolins) and plants (such as costus root, American ginseng, orchids, agarwood, African cherry, hoodia and aloe)
  • Live plants, primarily involving orchids, cacti, euphorbias and cycads, with around 78,000 seized during the period 2011-2014;
  • Other commodities frequently traded illegally into the EU include corals, caviar, timber products, dead birds and invertebrates (bodies, parts and derivatives).

EU airports and ports are used as important transit points between, in particular, Africa and Asia, especially for ivory, rhino horns or pangolin scales. Wildlife products (including critically endangered European eels) are also illegally exported from EU Member States, both to other Member States and to third countries[1].

Why are existing measures not enough?

The EU has strict rules for trading endangered species, known as the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. A Directive on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law requires all Member States to ensure that illegal wildlife trade is considered a criminal offence in their national law, and to provide for effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal sanctions. However, there are great differences in the level of implementation and enforcement of these instruments amongst the different Member States. This is mainly due to varying levels of resources, awareness and prioritization.

Many measures have also been taken to support the global fight against wildlife trafficking, including through EU development support, diplomatic measures and trade policy. However, more can be done to ensure better coordination and a more strategic approach for action by the EU and the Member States.

A joint commitment by the EU and its 28 Member States to endorse and effectively implement over the next five years the measures of the Action Plan and the implementation of the different measures will ensure that the EU’s measures in place have stronger impact and will increase the leverage of the EU’s trade and diplomatic policy.

What are the key elements of the Action Plan?

The Action Plan is built around three pillars – prevention, stronger enforcement and global partnership.

The first pillar, prevention, includes measures to reduce demand for and supply of illegal wildlife products, both within the EU and globally. This will be done by using the available multilateral tools (CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to award protection to species at risk of becoming endangered through international trade, as well as EU-specific tools to support awareness campaigns and engage with the EU business sectors involved in legal wildlife trade. The Action Plan states that the Commission will prepare guidelines by the end of 2016 aiming to suspend the export of old ivory items from the EU and ensuring that intra-EU trade in old ivory items is strictly scrutinised by EU Member States. In order to address the root causes of wildlife trafficking, the Action Plan also foresees that EU policy and financial support in countries of origin should make sure that rural communities are fully engaged in and benefit from wildlife conservation, and that multilateral and bilateral measures are taken to tackle corruption associated with wildlife trafficking.

The second pillar is focused on better implementation and enforcement of existing instruments and stepping-up the fight against organised criminal groups.

The enforcement of existing EU rules on wildlife trade will be improved through enhanced cooperation between competent enforcement agencies, adequate training, and setting of priority targets at EU level with support from Europol as well as better cross-border co-operation between EU Member States. The Action Plan notably highlights the need for the EU to proactively monitor the implementation of EU rules on the import of hunting trophies in order to ensure that such trophies are of legal and sustainable origin. In relation to organised wildlife trafficking, the Action Plan contains measures aiming to increase the awareness of organised crime specialists on wildlife trafficking and to spur action against money laundering or cyber activities linked to it. The Action Plan also invites EU Member States to review their national laws to make organised wildlife trafficking a serious crime under the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, i.e. that it is punishable by imprisonment of a maximum of at least four years. The Action Plan also confirms that, in line with the European Agenda on Security, the effectiveness of Directive 2008/99 on environmental crime will be reviewed in 2016, including concerning the criminal sanctions applicable to wildlife trafficking throughout the EU. The Action Plan finally calls for improved international cooperation on enforcement through participation in international law enforcement operations, technical assistance and targeted financial support.

The third pillar is aimed at strengthening the global partnership of source, consumer and transit countries against wildlife trafficking.

This includes increased and strategic EU financial support to tackle wildlife trafficking in source countries, to help building capacity for enforcement and provide long term sources of income to rural communities living in wildlife-rich areas. The Action Plan indicates that the EU should put wildlife trafficking on its diplomatic agenda, to press for progress at the bilateral, regional and global levels with the relevant third countries, international organisations and civil society representatives. The EU should also use its trade policy and instruments to this end. The Action Plan foresees that the link between wildlife trafficking and security should be better explored and addressed through the relevant bilateral and multilateral mechanisms. Finally, it strongly supports the adoption and implementation of commitments to address wildlife trafficking in international instruments and multilateral fora.

How will the Action Plan be implemented?

An effective implementation of the Action Plan requires close cooperation between the EU level (the Commission, the External Action Service and the EU Delegations in third countries, Europol and Eurojust) and the Member States, including their own diplomatic networks. Therefore, the Commission proposes that this Action Plan is politically endorsed by the Council.

The Action Plan contains 32 actions setting out clearly who is responsible for implementation, by which timeline and what the expected results are.

The Commission will monitor the implementation regularly and will at the end of the 5 year period assess the extent to which the Action Plan has delivered.

What support does the EU give to developing countries in the fight against wildlife trafficking?

In recent decades the EU has supported a wide range of programmes to help developing countries fight wildlife trafficking, including under its "Biodiversity for Life" flagship programme. In Africa alone, the EU has committed more than EUR 500 million for biodiversity conservation over the past 30 years, with a portfolio of on-going projects worth approximately EUR 160 million which have been instrumental in the establishment and management of protected areas. A large number of projects to strengthen governance and the rule of law also indirectly help boost enforcement capacities.

Around EUR 700 million has already been committed for 2014-2020 for activities related to African wildlife conservation, combining a broad range of instruments, to assist developing countries to preserve natural resources and wildlife, while creating real benefits for the populations living in biodiversity hotspots.For the years to come, EU development cooperation policy and programming dedicated to wildlife conservation will be guided by the reportLarger than elephants: inputs for an EU strategic approach for African wildlife conservation

Some recent projects specifically intended to combat wildlife trafficking are:

  •  The EU is the main donor (EUR 1.73 million) to the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime, which comprises CITES, Interpol, UNODC (the UN Office on Drugs and Crime), World Bank and the World Customs Organisation. This consortium focuses on the international coordination of enforcement efforts and strengthen enforcement and compliance capacity, e.g. by encouraging countries to use its Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytical Toolkit;
  •  In December 2013, the Commission approved funding to a project known as MIKES (Minimising the Illegal Killing of Elephants and Other Endangered Species) with a grant of EUR 12.3 million. This programme follows an earlier one to monitor the illegal killing of elephants (MIKE) with an overall contribution to the CITES Secretariat of 12 million EUR covering 71 sites in Africa and Asia. The new programme puts greater emphasis on enforcement, and also includes other endangered species in the Caribbean and Pacific regions;
  •   The EU is also about to launch a new programme jointly carried out by CITES and UNODC to strengthen law enforcement agencies to prevent, investigate and prosecute wildlife crimes and reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products in South East Asia (through a EUR 5 million grant).

What else has the EU done so far to fight wildlife trafficking globally?

The EU plays a very active role in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to ensure that international trade in some 35 000 protected animal and plant species does not threaten their survival. Since July 2015, the EU is a Party to the Convention in addition to the 28 Member States which further reinforces its voice. In recent meetings, the EU has supported strong compliance measures for countries that do not comply with their obligations under the Convention, including when necessary the adoption of trade sanctions.

The EU also uses trade policy instruments to improve the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements such as CITES. Provisions are regularly included in the EU's Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with third countries and are also foreseen for inclusion in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement. A number of developing countries that ratify and implement international conventions on sustainable development and good governance (including CITES) benefit from additional trade preferences, through the Generalised Scheme of Preferences special arrangement (GSP+).

What is the international community doing about the problem?

At the international level, wildlife trafficking has gained attention in a number of important fora over the last years. The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development contains a specific target to "take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna, and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products" (target 15.7).

The UN General Assembly adopted for the first time a dedicated resolution on the topic in July 2015, which builds on a resolution passed at the first United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in June 2014 based on a joint EU-Africa initiative strongly encouraging governments to commit to targeted actions to eradicate supply, transit and demand for illegal wildlife products. G7 leaders have committed to fighting illegal wildlife trade in the Summit declaration in June 2015. The UN Security Council addressed the link between wildlife trafficking and instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Central African Republic. The African Union is developing a continent-wide strategy against wildlife trafficking. In February 2014, the United States adopted a National Strategy, the implementation of which is overseen by a specific task force set up by President Obama.

What is the role of the European Parliament and stakeholders in the elaboration of this Action Plan?

The European Parliament has called for an EU Action Plan in a resolution in January 2014. The Commission held a broad stakeholder consultation including an international expert conference on the topic in spring 2014. A large number of stakeholders, including Member States, third countries, international organisations, NGOs and individual citizens, provided input (see the results of the consultation). Stakeholders have also provided input on the roadmap for the development of the Action Plan, and a specific meeting was organised to discuss with enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges from the Member States how to address wildlife trafficking in the EU more effectively. Discussions took place with experts from Member States also through different Working Groups in the Council.

See also European Commission Press Release on Wildlife Trafficking.

[1] For more information on this point, see the Staff Working document "Analysis and Evidence in support of the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking" ((SWD (2016)38)


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