CITES and electronic commerce
New Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are
impacting on the evolution of CITES in many
significant ways, and Parties have been turning their attention
to their growing importance. They recognize that they will
face difficulties meeting obligations under CITES if they lack
adequate access to the Internet and other new communication tools.
Some Parties are already using new technologies to optimize
administrative trade procedures, facilitate legal trade and
harmonize CITES permit and certificate issuance procedures
with new international norms and standards. The advent of CITES
electronic permitting and the single window environment illustrate
these trends well (1).
Second, there is much discussion by Parties on the use of
new ICTs to bypass older Internet-based technologies. New hand-held
and palm devices, netbooks, and electronic books and tablets
offer a number of innovative ways to communicate with Parties
and regions with poor Internet connectivity. Mobile phones,
for example, are widely used in Africa and offer the means
for Parties in that region to receive, send and access CITES-related
information. The possibility of using mobile phone technologies
to assist with capacity-building activities also shows much
More controversial, however, has been the rapid growth in
the use of the Internet, particularly Web-based systems, to
conduct trade in specimens of CITES-listed species. Indeed,
reports claiming that the Internet is increasingly used to
conduct illegal trade in wildlife have gained wide coverage
in the media and are often cited to justify efforts to prohibit
electronic commerce in certain categories of CITES-listed species.
The Secretariat acknowledges that publications that are not
peer-reviewed play an important role in raising awareness about
potential problems associated with the electronic facilitation
of trade in wildlife. However, it also believes that policy
decisions regarding such trade should be based on rigorous
and scientific data. To date, the Secretariat is not aware
of scientific literature identifying correlations between the
use of the Internet and the rate of illegal trade in wildlife.
It believes, therefore, that decisions related to the Internet
and trade in CITES-listed species should be guided by caution
and a healthy dose of scepticism. The recent furore caused
by the use of non-scientific literature by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 report illustrates how
crucial this is (3).
The Secretariat is also of the opinion that new
ICTs facilitate legal trade in specimens of CITES-listed species.
In this regard, it is noteworthy that the European Parliament
referred in its resolution of 5 February 2009 on International
Trade and the Internet to “the beneficial influence of
the Internet over the different factors and stages in cross-border
and international trading of goods and services during the
last two decades”(4).
The Secretariat further concurs with the
view expressed in the same resolution that actions to prevent
illegal activities on the Internet should not hinder the
growth of CITES-related electronic trade. Indeed, the resolution
need to create mechanisms for the adoption and strengthening
of the necessary and appropriate enforcement measures and of
more effective and concerted coordination, which will permit
the combating and elimination of existing illegal online commercial
behaviour especially with regard to cases liable to involve
major public health risks, such as bogus medicines, without
affecting the development of international e-commerce”.
This issue of CITES World, therefore, offers a forum
to United Nations organizations, Parties and non-governmental
organizations that have been studying the impact of the Internet
on the rate of illegal trade in wildlife. This collection of
articles should give Parties insights into many of the issues
surrounding use of new ICTs and trade in CITES-listed species,
and assist in discussions at the upcoming 15th meeting of the
Conference of the Parties (CoP15, Doha, 13-25 March 2010).
The first article by Mr Trevor Salmon, Chair of the
Standing Committee Working Group on E-commerce of Specimens of CITES-Listed
Species, offers a synopsis of the issues faced by members of
the Working Group during the intersessional period and some
thoughts on future action. This article should be of special
interest to Parties as the issues discussed by Working Group
members will most likely be examined at CoP15.
In the second article, China presents a summary of actions
at the national level to combat illegal trade in wildlife.
Given that China is now the Party with the largest number of
Internet users, this article presents a number of directions
Parties can follow to understand and use more effectively a
medium as dynamic as the Internet.
Using the Internet to combat illegal trade in CITES-listed
species is the topic of the third article, submitted by the
United States. Parties developing enforcement measures to deal
with illegal Internet-based activities may be interested in
how the US Fish and Wildlife uses Internet technologies in
its intelligence gathering and investigations.
The Secretariat has also sought the experience
of other United Nations organizations with experience in
dealing with illegal trade and the Internet. In this regard,
UNESCO submitted the fourth article describing its response
to the illegal trafficking of cultural goods on the Internet.
Of particular interest to Parties is UNESCO’s description
of partnerships with INTERPOL and eBay to discourage such
The sixth and seventh articles are by TRAFFIC and the International
Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the non-governmental organizations
most responsible for raising public awareness on the use of
the Internet and illegal trade in CITES-listed species. In
fact, most Google or Bing searches on the links between the
Internet and the rate of illegal wildlife trade will retrieve
primarily citations of or news items about their publications.
The Secretariat believes that the findings of these articles
lead to several conclusions. First, there is an urgent need for
scientific, peer-reviewed articles to confirm or refute the claims
that the Internet fosters illegal wildlife trade. Parties need
this information to understand the scope of the problem and to
make decisions. Second, efforts to combat this type of illegal
trade should not be made to the detriment of legal trade. Third,
effective partnership among Parties, other organizations and
enforcement agencies is absolutely essential in the effective
development and implementation of policies to ensure legal trade
and to discourage illegal activities on the Internet. Last, electronic
commerce is bound to continue its rapid and exponential growth,
creating new challenges and opportunities for Parties and enforcement
agencies, particularly in the use of new ICTs, to encourage legal
trade. Enhancing national capacities to benefit from these developments,
therefore, must become a priority.
The Secretariat looks forward to discussions on the above
topics at CoP15.
Senior Capacity Building Officer
E-mail: marcos.silva @ cites.org