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Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) entered into force in 1975 and over 180 countries, or Parties, have signed up, committing to protect over 35,000 animal and plant species from unsustainable or illegal international trade. Arguably the strongest of the biodiversity conventions, its provisions are translated into national legislation by Parties; it provides a legal framework for the regulation of trade in those species that are exploited commercially for international trade. 

The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendices, I, II and III, which offer varying degrees of protection, and trade is regulated by means of a permitting system.

Appendix I:

Species threatened with extinction, for which international trade is only authorized in exceptional circumstances, are listed here. There are around 300 plant species listed in Appendix I and import, export and re-export permits are required. 

Appendix II:

Species that are not threatened with extinction at present, but may become so if uncontrolled trade continues, are listed here. Trade is permitted of both wild and artificially propagated material provided an appropriate permit is obtained. There are around 29,000 plant species on Appendix II; export and re-export permits are obligatory but import permits are not necessary unless required by national law, for instance when trading with the EU.

Appendix III:

Species that are threatened locally with extinction through commercial exploitation and therefore subject to trade controls within certain countries are listed here. There are currently around 18 plant species listed in this Appendix. International trade in this material requires an export permit from the country that listed the species, or a certificate of origin if exported from another country. 

Species can be added, amended or deleted, from Appendix I and II by the Parties every three years at the Conference of the Parties (CoP), and from Appendix III at any time

In order to implement the Convention, a Party has to establish at least one Management Authority to ensure that the specimen has been legally acquired and to issue the permit and at least one Scientific Authority, to ensure that trade in that species is not detrimental to its survival in the wild. 

As stated, Parties are required to have their own national legislation and this may be stricter than the provisions of the Convention itself, for instance some Parties prohibit all exports of their native wild plants.  The stricter measures outlined in the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations (EU WTR), which transpose CITES into EU law, require both import and export permits for species listed on Appendix I and II, and EU Member States can agree not to accept imports of any species or specimens from any countries where they have doubts about legality. Other examples of stricter measures include Australia and the US.  

It is essential for anyone planning to import or export a CITES listed species to check requirements with the CITES Management Authority of both import and export countries