Friday, 12 March 2010

Tigers, mahogany and CITES preliminaries

Friday's meeting of the CITES Standing Committee (the treaty's executive body) gave a good flavour of the deliberations to come over the coming two weeks of the CoP.

First big news of the day was the announcement that the new Secretary General of CITES will be John Scanlon - not so long ago a colleague of ours at IUCN, where he ran the Environmental Law Programme before joining UNEP in Nairobi. So - looking forward to catching up with him and his plans for the Secretariat later in the meeting.

Otherwise, two key issues stood out on the agenda. An update on Asian Big Cat (yes, that includes tigers) trade made reference to a document that will be considered next week submitted by the IUCN that calls for strengthened action by governments to clamp down on illegal trade and close down tiger farms. This attracted some comments of support, but also a strong reaction from the Chinese government, which considers some aspects of the proposal relating to domestic trade to be beyond the authority of CITES and a potential infrongement on sovereignty.

Overall a puzzling reaction, since international trade (CITES' main focus) by definition must be heading to a domestic markets in someone's country. CITES was established in the first place on the principle that individual countries can only do so much to control wildlife trade and need other countries to adopt trade controls to support them. And the CITES member governments have a long track record of agreeing (usually unanimously) restrictions on internal trad - such as closing down Chiru weaving, market controls on caviar as well as the long-standing agreements to close down domestic use of rhino and tiger products. Debate on the EU proposal will resume next week.

The other fascinating issue of the day was on mahogany trade in Peru. Concerns about levels of export, conservation impacts and illegal sourcing have been running in CITES for a decade. Based on a recent review by the CITES Secretariat there was a call this week for Peru to adopt a voluntary moratorium on exports until improved controls were in place. TRAFFIC spoke passionately about on-going evidence of failures in the regulation of mahogany trade in the country and the decline of mahogany stands to the point of commercial extinction. Peru firmly declined the call for a moratorium, so the Standing Committee issued an ultimatum - in six months if progress cannot be shown they will vote on a mandatory ban on Peru's mahogany exports. A clear message, but also the risk of another six months of damage to Peru's forests.

So - some good pointers for the action to come.

Next on Saturday is the offical opening of the CoP.

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