Conference on Wildlife Trafficking

On February 8, the European Commission organised a conference on the implementation of the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking

By Sophie Bolla

10 Feb 2017

Daniel Calleja, Director General, DG Environment, European Commission welcomed all the participants and notably John Scanlon the CITES Secretary General. One year ago, he said, the European Commission was proud to announce that they had adopted the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking. They wanted to have a united position and to go to the CITES COP with an Action Plan and they wanted to show European leadership in this area. There has been a very strong movement of support in all the Member States which unanimously adopted conclusions on this Plan. The European Parliament also supported the Plan. However, he said, one thing is to get political support but a very different thing is implementing the 32 measures that they proposed in the Action Plan. This is why this meeting is so important and especially to have members of the civil society in the room. Everyone has a role to play: authorities, industry and civil society. He is very encouraged that so many initiatives have been launched. Europe was also very pleased by the outcome of the CITES COP in South Africa. Europe played a very important role and was behind all the big decisions taken. It is an example to follow for the future work. At international level, he added, they also succeeded in putting the issue of wildlife trafficking on the agenda of the G20 and the financial action taskforce which is the main international organisation working on money laundering. There are also more and more wildlife trafficking clauses in trade agreements. Some countries like the USA during the Obama administration have pushed this, he noted.  

He then explained that he would like to focus on the EU during this conference. What can we do in the EU to fight wildlife crime? The European Commission has been working with enforcement agencies from Member States, Europol and other enforcement authorities to facilitate joint enforcement operations. They defined EU-wide priorities and dedicated working groups were formed on each priority of the Action Plan. He stressed that it is important to have a strategic approach and that stakeholders are working together to promote joint enforcement.

Thanks to work from Germany, France, the UK, Austria and The Netherlands, important seizure of ivory happened in recent months. He added that rhino horns were seized in Madrid and that the Czech Republic continues to work hard on investigating the rhino horns connection with Asia. He noted that Africa is the source of wildlife traffic, regrettably Europe is in some cases a hub and the market destination is in Asia. We have to tackle this, he argued. Wildlife trafficking is one of the most serious causes of organised crime. He mentioned certain cases like the live turtles seized in Croatia in November, the smuggling of precious live birds in Belgium and The Netherlands, eel trafficking in France and Spain. These are cases were the worst was avoided because authorities have taken actions but this could be the tip of the iceberg. Committed enforcement is very important because it is the only way to win the battle. He added that it is important to highlight the changes in legislation which some Member States have undertaken. The punitive approach is necessary.

One of the most important pillars of the Action Plan is to prevent wildlife trafficking. Awareness raising and the engagement of the business sector and civil society is key. Working in partnership with all organisations is essential and is a priority for the EU. With this conference, he said, the Commission would like to encourage the business sector to strengthen their action on wildlife trafficking. They need to identify concrete measures to tackle this issue. The EU needs to hear clearly the voice of the business sector against wildlife trafficking. Many of you are ready to step up, he said, and the Commission is ready and willing to work with you in this area.

This conference is a first step and he hoped they will be able to build on fruitful discussions. The fight against wildlife trafficking is far from over. He is confident that if they work together they will able to succeed.

John Scanlon, CITES Secretary General, said that it was a pleasure to speak on the first anniversary of the Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking. He then said that COP2017 was the largest meeting CITES has ever had. It had the largest and most complex agenda ever. The EU was represented at CITES for the first time. They had a great host in South Africa and he was grateful for the support that CITES got from the EU to have regional meetings beforehand. Governments and parties were really well prepared for this COP. They had a stunning outcome from this meeting and it was a game changer for wildlife. 500 new species were brought under CITES trade control notably shark species and rays. This was all pushed by developing States. He appreciated the support from the EU, notably on marine species. On timber species, he noted the big shift in CITES work. 900 timber species are now listed. The EU has been a huge part of this, notably in supporting the project of the tropical timber organisation. Many other species that can be used as pets (reptiles, amphibians…) were also brought under trade control.

He added that the EU leadership was on display in Johannesburg. The EU proposed or co-proposed 14 proposals, 13 were accepted. The one that was not accepted was the object of a deal with Indonesia. The Resolution on combatting corruption was also supported by the EU. It was the first time CITES tackled this issue aggressively at the COP. There was also a strong engagement with rural communities. Captive breeding was also addressed. Very targeted decisions on some species were taken. He noted that they also had some great side events with the South African Prime Minister and Commissioner Vella.

He then stated that CITES is engaged with the private sector. A lot has been done in the transport sector, notably with IATA. They are engaged as well with the tourism sector, he explained, noting his meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Tourism in Kenya, Mr Najib Balala. He also recently met with the private sector in China on ivory.

Regarding pet trade, he explained that they do see illegal trade and the use of false permits. The industry has a key role to play to tackle this issue. He was excited that the industry was present at the conference. CITES is also working very actively with zoos as well as rescue centres.

Concluding, he said that the Action Plan is aligned with the outcome of CITES. Implementing the plan means also implementing CITES and the outcome of the COP. He was grateful for the EU, its Member States, its Parliament and its Commission for providing extraordinary technical, financial, and political support to CITES.

Presentation: the role of the EU in global illegal wildlife trade

Gaël de Rotalier, CITES team, Unit for Environmental Agreements and Trade, DG Environment, European Commission explained that the EU is a big market for legal trade in wildlife. It is estimated to amount to EUR 100 million a year. The EU also accounts for nearly 20% of the global timber market. For CITES-listed species the EU is also a very important market. Life plants, leather products, caviar, timber products are the most added commodities.  

Europe is also an important transit and source region for illegal wildlife products. He mentioned the importance of seizure in Member States. Airports are a place where seizures take place, as well as mailing facilities. Wildlife comes from various parts of the world. Reptiles, turtles, parrots, birds, amphibians are the most traded species. Europe is also an important hub for a number of species and commodities going from Africa to Asia. He gave the example of the Czech Republic and the trade of ivory and rhino horns. For some commodities, the EU is also an exporting regions notably for eels that are shipped alive from the EU to China and Hong Kong.

The response at EU level was the EU Action Plan. It has been adopted by the Commission one year ago, adopted by the Council in June and received support from the European Parliament in November. It contains 32 actions and 3 priorities to put wildlife trafficking at a higher place on the EU agenda. The three priorities are:

  • Preventing wildlife trafficking and addressing its root causes
  • Implementing and enforcing existing rules and combatting organised wildlife crime more effectively
  • Strengthening the global partnership of source, consumer and transit countries against wildlife trafficking

With this conference, the Commission wants to focus on the EU dimension of the problem and take stock of where we are now. It also wants to identify opportunities for a better engagement of the EU business sector.

PANEL I: The Wildlife Action Plan one year later: stocktaking, achievements and challenges

Helge Elisabeth Zeitler, Deputy Head of Unit, Unit for Bilateral and Regional Environmental Cooperation, DG Environment, European Commission, moderator of the panel, said that the Commission has asked Member States for some feedback on where they are one year after the Action Plan. The Commission will put a document online on what happened at EU level and Member States level. If we look at enforcement, she said, a couple of points can be highlighted. There have been efforts in Member States for more specialisation in prosecution services, good steps forward on cooperation amongst authorities, a number of countries also increased awareness efforts. There have been challenges as well in particular with regards to the lack of financial and human resources.

Maj Munk, Danish CITES Management Authority said that Denmark has not focused on the Action Plan for the last year but a lot of actions in the Action Plan are already achieved in Denmark. It is a small country and this allows her to see the implementation of CITES along the whole chain. She participates in the meetings in Brussels as well so she is involved when they discuss new legislation. She has the possibility to work on policy, enforcement and practical daily work. Looking at the Action Plan, she explained that she was very happy because it does not only focus on CITES. She argued that they should be in closer contact with their FLECT colleagues and should also look more closely at the Birds Directive.

She then explained that they have a memorandum of understanding with the Danish customs and the police on CITES but also FLECT issues. They do some training of customs who ask for information about CITES. To have this close contact is very important. She then talked about the enforcement meetings of CITES saying that it is important to share knowledge. The key word is cooperation and that is why this Action Plan is very interesting because it pushes for cooperation. She noted that for example they talked about money laundering which never happened before.  

Helge Elisabeth Zeitler explained that the Commission is currently reviewing its Money Laundering Directive and said that environmental crime is included. On FLECT, the links should be made more between both forms of illegal trade. People in the Commission working on the FLECT Action Plan have this in mind. 

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