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Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – Definition

Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Definition

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is defined as a multilateral pact or treaty focused on safeguarding the safety of endangered plants and animals. CITES is also called the Washington convention, governments of many countries reached this international agreement not to threaten the survival of wild animals and plants.

The International Trade was first drafted by members of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in March 1963. It is a treaty that holds that countries should not threaten the survival of any species.

A Little More on What is the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was adopted in March 1973 but it didn’t come into force until July 1, 1975. The Multilateral treaty was open to signatures in 1973, as at 2019, the number of states that are signatories to the convention had grown to 183.

When CITES was being drafted in 1963, the Secretariat of GATT was carried along in order to avoid the violation of GATT principles.

The main goal of this international trade is to ensure that all species of Wild plants and animals are not threatened. Their survival is essential to this convention and it contains provisions that safeguard the safety of these species.

Background and Operation

The CITES international trade treaty has been a long standing international treaty on the survival of wild species; plants and animals. CITES does not replace the domestic laws maintained by participating states, rather, it contains legally binding regulations for the participating states. Participation in the Convention is not mandatory, states who wish to be part of the international trade agreement must be willing to abide by the regulations. There are four requirements to be a party in the CITES, they are;

  • Designation is scientific authorities,
  • Laws safeguarding the specie and confiscation of specimens,
  • Laws prohibiting the state from violating CITES, and
  • Penalties for trade violation.

The secretaries of CITES perform a wide range of functions such as organizing trainings and seminars to sensitize parties on illegal extinction or Killing of Wild specimens. The conference of parties (CoP) and the activities of the Secretariat are funded by party donations in form of trust funds. There are also countries that serve as donors, an example is the European Union.

Significantly, CITES has no explicit provision for penalties in cases of noncompliance the participating parties have devised techniques that ensure compliance with the rules of CITES. Certain resolutions are in place to deal with infraction by erring parties. They are;

  • Suspension of the party from the Secretariat
  • An official warning
  • Suspension of CITES related trade from the erring party
  • Measures to by taken by an offending party before it can be reabsorbed.

Infractions come in different forms and the resolutions above are applied based on the severity of the infraction by a party. Inability to deliver annual reports, excessive trade, lax enforcement among others are instances of infractions. In certain cases of infractions, the national legislation of CITES imposed bilateral sanctions. A good example of this occurrence is the 1991 scenario where the United States made Japan repeal its reservation to hawksbill turtle products, the U. S used a certification under the Pelly Amendment to get done. This in turn had an impact on the volume of export of this country.

Regulation of Trade

Imports, exports and re-exports  carried out by parties to CITES are regulated in a way that these activities do not threaten the survival of wild plants and animals. All these activities must be authorized, they must pass through a licensing system created by CITES. The regulations of CITES are however subject to specimens selected to certain controls.

Also, to further enhance an effective regulation, parties must designate management authorities that will be in charge of the licensing system. This provision is contained in Article I of the Convention. These management authorities designated by parties administer the licensing system and also render advice on trades and their effects on listed species or specimens.

References for Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species

Academic Research on Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

The evolution of the CITES: a reference to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, Wijnstekers, W. (2011).

Summarizing the evidence on the international trade in illegal wildlife, Rosen, G. E., & Smith, K. F. (2010). EcoHealth, 7(1), 24-32.

The convention on international trade in endangered species (CITES, 1973): implications of recent developments in international and EC environmental law, Ong, D. M. (1998). Journal of Environmental Law, 10(2), 291-314.

International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations, Lenzen, M., Moran, D., Kanemoto, K., Foran, B., Lobefaro, L., & Geschke, A. (2012). Nature, 486(7401), 109.

Conflicts between the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the GATT in light of actions to halt the rhinoceros and tiger trade, Crawford, C. (1994). Geo. Int’l Envtl. L. Rev., 7, 555.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species: The Role of Public Interest Non-Governmental Organizations in Ensuring the Effective Enforcement of the …, Sands, P. J., & Bedecarre, A. P. (1989). BC Envtl. Aff. L. Rev., 17, 799.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the debate over sustainable use, Garrison, J. L. (1994). Pace Envtl. L. Rev., 12, 301.

Limits to the use of threatened species lists, Possingham, H. P., Andelman, S. J., Burgman, M. A., Medellı́n, R. A., Master, L. L., & Keith, D. A. (2002). Trends in ecology & evolution, 17(11), 503-507.

Problems related to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, Matthews, P. (1996). International & Comparative Law Quarterly, 45(2), 421-431.

An overview of international wildlife trade from Southeast Asia, Nijman, V. (2010). Biodiversity and conservation, 19(4), 1101-1114.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species: Enforcement Theory and Practice in the United States, Kosloff, L. H., & Trexler, M. C. (1987). BU Int’l LJ, 5, 327.

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