By Henry Lamb
CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) was adopted March 3, 1973, the same year the Endangered Species Act was adopted in the United States, and became international law in 1975. Like all environmental treaties since 1948, CITES was drafted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, along with five other agencies of the federal government, is a member of the IUCN. The World Wildlife Fund, and other environmental organizations that are also members of the IUCN, worked together with the federal government, on parallel tracks, to protect endangered species at the national and international level.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for enforcing both the ESA and CITES in the United States.
CITES is governed by its Conference of the Parties (COP), which consists of appointed officials from each member nation. The COP meets every two to three years. Interim activities are conducted by a Secretariat (U.N. employees), and three permanent committees Standing Committee; Plants and Animals Committees; and Nomenclature Committee. Each committee consists of appointed delegates from member nations.
CITES claims jurisdiction over 5,000 animal species, and 25,000 plant species, whose level of regulation is determined by their designation in either Appendix I (highest level of protection), Appendix II (severely regulated), or Appendix III, (less regulated).
The Plants and Animals Committee recommends to the COP the species that are to be listed, and the Appendix to which they are assigned. The Committee also designates the “official” scientists within each of the six CITES regions who are “experts” in CITES species. The Committee also authorizes other scientific and management affairs within each region. The Committee chair “may” invite other organizations to participate in committee meetings, and in CITES implementation programs.
Issues of concern
Since CITES was ratified by the U.S. Senate, no elected official, at any level, has had oversight, or involvement with the treaty’s implementation. Rules for implementation are promulgated by appointed officials from the same agencies, and representatives from the same NGOs who drafted the treaty originally. There is no accountability to any elected governmental body. Nor is there an effective avenue for redress of grievances for parties injured by implementation of the treaty.
NGOs that serve, essentially, as the enforcement arm for the treaty’s implementation, are accountable only to their respective boards of directors. International NGOs (IUCN, WWF, FSC, TRAFFIC, INRENA) are all beyond the reach of U.S. laws that might require disclosure of funding. There is no accountability to the regulated community.
This situation creates vast opportunities for misadventure. Each year, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), awards hundreds of millions of dollars to projects for which the IUCN and the WWF are named as “executing agency,” or “collaborating organization.” At least one-fourth of these funds come from U.S. taxpayers, who are then victimized by the rules of implementation drafted, implemented, and enforced by these same NGOs. The dramatic increase in the price of mahogany in recent years, reflects the cost of compliance with the rules and procedures required by these organizations.
Moreover, without oversight and public accountability, NGO personnel on the ground, as well as underpaid government officials in exporting countries, are highly susceptible to bribery and corruption. There is virtually no way to require transparency, or even accountable reporting of the procedures required for every transaction.
In the United States, both industry and consumers are at the mercy of NGOs and appointed officials, for products made from any of the 30,000 species covered by the CITES.