Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was one of the earliest of the current generation of multilateral environmental agreements dealing with biodiversity and it has always attracted considerable attention. It focuses on species that are or may be threatened by international trade. The Convention was signed on 3 March 1973. It entered into force after its tenth ratification, on 1 July 1975. By October 2005 the Convention had 169 Parties.

Objectives and approach

The Convention aims to ensure that no species of wild fauna or flora becomes or remains subject to unsustainable exploitation because of international trade. It does this by subjecting the international trade in specimens of selected species to certain controls. These controls vary according to the degree of threat the species faces. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices.

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction. Commercial trade in specimens of these species is prohibited.

Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction but which may become so unless trade is controlled. Trade in specimens of Appendix II species is regulated with the aim of ensuring that it is not detrimental to the survival of the species.

Parties can submit proposals to amend Appendices I and II at meetings of the Conference of the Parties. Amendments require a two thirds majority of those Parties present and voting.

Appendix III contains species that are protected in at least one country which has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling the trade. Unlike Appendix I and II, each Party is entitled to make unilateral amendments to Appendix III for species that are protected within its jurisdiction.

Institutional Structure

Conference of the Parties (CoP): The Conference of the Parties is the supreme decision-making body of the convention. It meets every two to three years to review the implementation of the Convention. At the meetings the Parties consider (and where appropriate adopt) proposals to amend the lists of species in Appendices I and II; consider discussion documents and reports from the Parties, the permanent committees, the Secretariat and working groups; recommend measures to improve the effectiveness of the Convention; and make provisions necessary to allow the Secretariat to function effectively.

At meetings of the Conference of the Parties, in addition to decisions to amend Appendices I and II, the Parties pass Resolutions and Decisions that are intended to improve the effectiveness of the Convention. Decisions typically relate to the period up to the next Conference of the Parties, while Resolutions have a longer lifespan.

Standing Committee: The Standing Committee provides policy guidance to the Secretariat concerning the implementation of the Convention and oversees the management of the Secretariat’s budget. In addition, it coordinates and oversees, where required, the work of other committees and working groups; carries out tasks given to it by the Conference of the Parties; and drafts resolutions for consideration by the Conference of the Parties. The Standing Committee usually meets once a year and additionally before each Conference of the Parties.

Animals Committee and Plants Committee: The role of these two committees is to provide technical support to decision-making about animals and plants respectively. Their role includes undertaking periodic reviews of species in order to ensure their appropriate categorization in the CITES Appendices; advising when certain species are subject to unsustainable trade and recommending remedial action (through the Significant Trade Review); and performing other functions entrusted to them by the Conference of the Parties or the Standing Committee.

Nomenclature Committee: This committee recommends standard names for animal or plants species, to the level of subspecies or botanical variety. An important aspect of the work of the committee is to verify that changes in the names used to refer to species do not cause changes in the scope of protection of the taxon concerned.

Secretariat: The functions of the Secretariat include playing a coordinating, advisory and servicing role in the working of the convention, arranging meetings of the Conference of the Parties and of the permanent committees; providing assistance in the fields of legislation, enforcement, science and training; and distributing information to the Parties. The Secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.

Strategic Vision

The purpose of the Strategic Vision through 2005, adopted by CoP11 in 2000 is ‘To ensure that no species of wild fauna or flora becomes or remains subject to unsustainable exploitation because of international trade.’ The seven main goals are:

  • Enhance the ability of each Party to implement the convention
  • Strengthen the scientific basis of the decision-making processes
  • Contribute to the reduction and ultimate elimination of illegal trade in wild fauna and flora
  • Promote greater understanding of the convention
  • Increase cooperation and conclude strategic alliances with international stakeholders
  • Progress towards global membership
  • Provide the convention with an improved and secure financial and administrative basis

At CoP13 in 2004 the Parties to CITES decided to extend the period of its Strategic Vision to the end of 2007.