CITES proceeds cautiously, in the wake of the Convention on Biological Diversity
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (cites) took a few steps forward and retracted a whole mile at its 13 th Conference of Parties (co p-13), which concluded in Bangkok on October 14 after 2 weeks of hectic parleys. It set in motion, or sped up, processes to overhaul the very extent of the convention's reach. In the same vein, it passed proposals and accepted documents that sent it reeling back to the days of ultra-conservation (see box: What moved at CoP-13).
Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra got the ball rolling in a positive direction, committing to help set up an asean-wide system to monitor trafficking and promising to host a meeting to this effect in 2005. cites secretary-general W Wijnstekers had other urgencies in mind: the convention faced a fund crunch.Even as existing programmes lacked resources, he told delegates and the media, ever-enthusiastic conservation-oriented countries were eager cites played a bigger role in wildlife protection in the years to come.
Money crunch apart, cites has been facing an increasing crisis of identity: the Convention on Biological Diversity (cbd), for instance, has now taken the lead in setting the terms for sustainable trade in natural resources. In the last decade, the convention has attempted to re-cast itself, trying hard to find synergies between itself and other international bodies like the International Whaling Commission and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (fao), and multilateral agreements such as the Convention on Migratory Species and cbd. In fact, cites has already concluded memoranda of understanding with the Basel Convention, the Montreal Protocol, iucn, the World Customs Organization and Interpol, and is preparing one with unep and fao(see box: CBD and CITES).
Studies of the relationships between the two conventions make it amply clear that their overall goals are not really identical, formulated as they are in different eras of political awareness as well as political correctness. But in 2004, cop-7 of the cbd established specific goals and sub-targets on wild flora and fauna with international trade, expressly desiring to work in tandem with cites. So it was that at cop-13, Namibia's submission bringing cites and cbd closer and focussing on the Addis Ababa Principles and Guidelines on sustainable use -- adopted at cbdcop-7 -- was adopted.
cites has spent years in revising its listing criteria. And fao has spent over us$1 million in contributing to the process. On the fifth day of cop-13 , to general acclaim, the outcome of this process was accepted by consensus, with an agreement not to immediately entertain changes in the criteria and so give it time to work.
But cites failed the very first test of the new criteria, the very next day. Thailand's proposal was being debated. Norway drew attention to the convention secretariat's evaluation that the proposal did not meet cites criteria. No one challenged the statement, including Thailand, whose final summary indicated the desire to list this species was 'to draw attention to it' and 'to assist in raising funds'. The proposal was adopted. Critics claim it is such irrational decisions that make the faoviewcites' possible involvement in fisheries management issues timorously.
Things got only worse when it came to debating the contentious African ivory case. Conservationists gained the biggest victory: an unprecedented continent-wide action plan was adopted to crack down on unregulated domestic ivory markets in Africa. The plan commits all African countries with domestic ivory markets to either strictly control the trade or shut it down altogether. This, when Namibia along with Botswana and South Africa, won support for a one-off sale of existing ivory stocks, only the second since an international ivory trading ban was introduced 15 years ago.
Things got convoluted when Namibia was allowed to begin 'non-commercial' trade in carved-ivory ekipas, permitting two ethnic minority communities -- the Owambo and Ovi-himba -- to resume carving these amulets collectors of African traditional jewellery covet. The vote allows ekipas to be exported from Namibia by visitors as personal effects, but not for resale. Even this 'concession' came through in Namibia's favour primarily because the 25 European Union (eu) countries -- each with a vote --abstained. Ginette Hemley, vice president for species conservation at wwf,claimed: "The trade will be strictly non-commercial and on such a small scale that every piece of ivory will be individually marked and tracked." But several parties laughed at such claims and the term 'non-commercial sale', knowing the wording would only push the legitimised business to become illegal.
cop-13also considered a us proposal on reviewing resolutions on plants and plant trade, and the definition of "artificially propagated". The us opposed an alternative definition Chile proposed, allowing some Appendix i plants grown from wild-collected seeds to be considered as artificially propagated. Along with Canada and the eu,it suggested that such species be considered under ranching provisions. Many delegates supported Chile's definition, indicating that for some species, artificially propagated seeds collected from Appendix i species could be useful in conserving wild populations. Finally, delegates agreed that an exception "may be granted"; specimens were "deemed" artificially propagated if grown from wild-collected seeds or spores under "certain circumstances".
Decisions favouring conservation through breeding and ex-situ cultivation moved in the right direction, but a proposal that could have really stretched cites' mandate further was spurned. eu proposed to include a paragraph -- in the interpretation section of the appendices -- which would have exempted from the convention's provisions the following: in vitro cultivated dna that does not contain any part of the original from which it was derived; cells or cell lines cultivated in vitro; urine and faeces; medicines and other pharmaceutical products; and fossils. eu finally had to withdraw the proposal. Switzerland, too, withdrew a similar proposal. Such proposals were stalled, observers noted, because of reluctance from many countries like India, a clear indication that discussion on this issue -- which involves the trade interests of pharmaceutical companies and other natural resource extract-based industries -- would become more explicit once the cbd resolved it. Will that happen by the time cop-14 is held in the Netherlands, two years from now, remains to be seen.
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