With 94% of the world's countries adhering to the convention, CITES, which regulates the trade of fauna and flora in the world, is a widely accepted agreement within the international community. Ecuador was one of the first countries to ratify the agreement in 1975 , the same year that the text of the regulation entered into force.
What is at stake this year at CITES?
Every three years, the parties that make up the CITES convention meet to make new decisions on international wildlife trade at a conference of the parties (better known as COP). The last time this event was held in Latin America was in 2002.
In the months prior to the conference, the 184 States that adhere to the convention submit proposals on existing regulations, or suggest new ones, to commercialize wild plant and animal species, so that their existence and stability are not threatened. In other words, they seek to make international trade in wildlife sustainable.
This year, 175 parties of the 184 that make up the convention participated in the event: 183 countries and the European Union (EU). Stricter regulations are being discussed for almost 600 species of flora and fauna, which have been suggested by the parties through 52 proposals. According to an official statement from the CITES Secretariat, it is believed that these species could be "under increasing threat of extinction due to their international trade". Of these 52 proposals, which each include a species of animal or plant, only 9 have been proposed with the aim of reducing restrictions on their trade.
Approximately 4,000 government officials, experts, representatives of trade or conservation organizations, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have participated in the debates with the aim to reach new agreements; for example, the conservation NGO World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) also participated.
Although several local and international organizations attend as observer entities, to push or reject certain decisions, David Whitbourn, official spokesman for the CITES Secretariat, told GK that at this COP, its parties (states) are the only ones that can make decisions.
Ecuador at COP19
Five delegates at the COP represented Ecuador: three from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE), one from the Public Institute for Aquaculture and Fisheries Research (IPIAP) representing the CITES Scientific Authority in Ecuador, and one from Chancellery.
This year, Ecuador was a co-proponent of three proposals that were discussed at the conference: the inclusion of the glass frog (Centrolenida) and two species of sharks (Carcharhinidae and Sphyrnidae ) in Appendix II of the convention. This appendix lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but that must be controlled so that their trade does not negatively impact their survival or cause them to become extinct.
This is one of the reasons why Ecuador sent an IPIAP delegate, as there is interest in including these sharks in Appendix II of the convention, David Veintimilla, a CITES authority in Ecuador, told GK.
In recent years, the media have repeatedly denounced the lack of control and failures in Ecuadorian legislation to combat the illegal trafficking of protected shark species. In fact, in 2021, the export of shark fins tripled, despite the fact that 78% of the species exported are protected under the CITES convention.
Although this is one of Ecuador's key points at the COP, Veintimilla clarified that there is also interest in supporting stricter regulations for species proposed by other countries, such as freshwater rays and turtles. Especially since these species are often illegally trafficked to European markets as pets, according to the environmental authority.
For this COP, Ecuador did not present any proposal on flora species. However, Veintimilla said that one of the national interests is to support one of Brazil's proposals. The neighboring Amazonian country wants the Brazilwood (Paubrasilia echinata) — wood with which violin bows and other musical instruments are made — to be included in Appendix I of the convention. That is, that its trade is reduced to exceptional circumstances because the species is in danger due to its high global demand.
Why is it important?
The decisions made at this COP will be fundamental for conservation, but also for human life, since products that allow human life as we know it depend enormously on the international wildlife trade. Food, clothing, construction materials and medicines are some of the aspects that must be put in the balance.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the health status of the human population strongly depends on biodiversity: traditional and modern medicine, clean water and air, and the transmission and prevalence of infectious diseases are some of the issues mentioned in one of the WHO 2015 reports.
For example, the global demand for plants for pharmacology has always been high, and currently the global market for medicinal and aromatic plants is $800 million per year . According to a study by Venda University in South Africa in 2022, the market is projected to grow to approximately $50 trillion by 2050.
So far, some 70,000 plants have been used for medicines in the world and more than 20% of wild medicinal plants are on the verge of becoming extinct.
"There is almost no area of our lives that is not dependent on nature and that is why the international trade in wild fauna and flora must be sustainable. The decisions of the Parties of the CITES in November will contribute to the conservation of species, biodiversity and the health of our planet," said the General Secretary of CITES, Ivonne Higuero.
A proposal to guarantee participation
Not all countries adhering to the convention have the resources to send delegates to the COP, but it is key that as many countries as possible participate in decision-making. For this reason, the CITES Secretariat created the Sponsored Delegates Project, explains its official spokesperson, David Whitbourn.
It consists of a fund to which the parties can donate voluntarily before the conference and, through it, the CITES Secretariat sponsors countries that need financial help to send their representatives. Member countries seeking this sponsorship must apply, and "the Secretariat tries to meet as many needs as possible from applicant countries," says Whitbourn.
By 2022, the fund raised $1 million and remained open until the start of the Conference. There are 17 donors, and the European Union is the one that has donated the most money so far: 100,000 dollars. Other countries that have also made large donations are Germany and Norway: the first with more than $77,000, and the second with $55,000.
With this mechanism , Ecuador obtained sponsorship for one of its five delegates this 2022 . The other four delegates have been financed through civil society organizations interested in the conservation of wildlife in Ecuador.
This story was produced as part of a Biodiversity Media Initiative travel grant to the 19th Conference of the Parties to CITES. It was originally published in Spanish by GK on 7 November 2022. It has been translated to English and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. The Biodiversity Media Initiative is supported by Arcadia — a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.
Banner image: Representatives from Oceania and Latin America meet in Panama prior to the COP / Credit: Ibrahim Rifath via Unsplash.