Minister Edna Molewa’s statement on the outcomes of Cites CoP16

19 March 2013


South Africa has offered to host the 17th Conference of Parties of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES COP17) in 2016.

South Africa believes the time has come for the CITES COP to be held on South African soil. As the third most mega-biodiverse country in the world, South Africa is always ready to take any leadership role in the conservation of biodiversity at all levels by working with different partners at national, regional and global levels. This is one of the reasons why, at this crucial time when the Convention is faced with complex trade, livelihoods and conservation issues, South Africa is ready to host the meeting in 2016.

The proposal to host the next CITES Conference of Parties in South Africa was accepted by all delegates at the closing ceremony for the 16th COP in Bangkok, Thailand, last week.

More than 2 000 delegates from 178 countries, non-governmental organisations and civil society attended the 16th COP, celebrating the 40th anniversary of CITES and deliberating on matters relating to the effective implementation of the Convention, including the amendment of the Appendices containing the species regulated in terms of the Convention. The 16th COP was characterised by dynamic debate on issues related to the conservation and protection of plant and animal species for future generations.

Over the two weeks, delegates robustly debated and decided how to improve the world’s wildlife trade regime, taking stock of progress made in ensuring survival of endangered species such as the leopard, rhino, cheetah, elephant, timber species and hoodia. Representatives also decided on which species were to be down-listed or up-listed on the CITES Appendices, determining which species may or may not be traded under strict international controls. Listing of sharks species to appendix II took a lot of time for delegates and the discussion was reopened twice.

While South Africa garnered a fair share of attention through the hosting of a series of side events directed at starting an international debate about whether rhino horn should be traded legally, under strictly-controlled CITES conditions, or not, a number of decisions were taken by Parties on species directly affecting South Africa.

The document relating to the management of “harvest for export quotas” for leopard was adopted by consensus. The document was developed by South Africa through collaboration with various SADC member states and the United States and addresses the challenges experienced in terms of the export and re-export of leopard trophies. This related directly to the proper labelling of leopard trophies, hunted in South Africa, and exported to the United States. A decision was adopted to enable the relevant Parties to report on difficulties experienced in terms of the implementation of the changes adopted and to determine whether the same process can be used for other species.

As many South Africans know, Hoodia is a plant that is widely used in weight loss and appetite suppressant products and was listed in CITES Appendix II in 2004 with an unusual annotation that was designed to promote sustainable use by local communities and value addition in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana. The original wording was ambiguous and the proposal adopted by CoP16 was to clarify the purpose of the annotation. The rewording of the labels clarifies bioprospecting rights agreements that benefit local communities. South Africa is one of the leading countries in the bioprospecting issues and it has recently been acceded to the Nagoya Protocol on fair and equitable access to benefits on genetic resources.

A proposal from Kenya and Tanzania to list East African sandalwood in CITES Appendix II was adopted. This species occurs more widely in Africa, including in South Africa, where they are not yet under threat from overharvesting. The proposal was amended to include only the populations in East Africa, which means sandalwood occurring in this region will in future be subject to regulation through CITES. South Africa will, however, participate in a CITES process to review the status and trade in sandalwood to make sure that our population does not experience increased harvesting as a result of shifts in trade, thus threatening the survival of the species.

Kenya had initially put forward a proposal to place a zero export quota on hunting trophies from South Africa and Swaziland until CoP18. Subsequent to deliberations in the margins of the meeting, Kenya withdrew the proposal. Concerns relating to increased enforcement, compliance monitoring, reporting and the restriction of re-export of hunting trophies were addressed through provisions in other documents discussed at the meeting, including the exclusion of rhino horn from the exemption provisions applicable to personal and household effects; this means that a person will not be able to move rhino horn as part of his/her personal belongings between countries and that permits will be required. South Africa should be commended by initiating discussions with Kenya towards the completion of an MOU between the 2 countries.

The Conference of Parties looked at the Security report of the Secretariat on Rhino, from various groups, with specific focus on the Use of Rhino products by Asian countries. A Working Group consisting of range, transit and consumer states, as categorised in the TRAFFIC report, was constituted and developed a decision focusing on strengthening enforcement and enhancing Rhino safety. The decision emphasises two major aspects of enforcement, demand reduction and legislation strengthening and harmonisation.

The decision also notes the responsibility on consumer countries, to develop and implement a demand reduction strategy that is aimed at reducing the demand for Rhino products that is a driver illegal killing of rhinos

South Africa as a range state is hoping to see more commitment from both consumer and transit states by developing programmes to create awareness, law enforcement, technology development, and information exchange on stopping rhino poaching. The decision will continue to serve as a guide to South Africa, in improving relations through intended MOUs with several affected countries like Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and China

Togo, Mali, Burkina Faso and Kenya withdrew their proposal to amend the annotation to the Appendix II listing of the African elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe to include all range States in the restrictions applicable to the four countries relating to ivory trade. The Parties had wanted to ensure the restrictions applied to the Southern African states would apply to all African elephant range States. As part of a compromise position reached at CoP14 in 2007, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe agreed to a nine year moratorium (that took effect from the date of the once-off ivory sales) provided a decision making mechanism for trade in ivory was developed and adopted at CoP16. Unfortunately this decision-making mechanism could not be finalised for consideration at CoP16, but an action plan with clear timeframes was adopted to ensure a mechanism would be finalised for consideration by CoP17 in South Africa.

In addition, various decisions were adopted to address important matters emanating from the reports presented on the Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programmes as well as the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS).

Among these was that the CITES Secretariat shall, subject to external funding, convene a CITES Ivory Enforcement Task Force, consisting of representatives from China (including Hong Kong Self Administration Region), Kenya, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Vietnam, in cooperation with International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) partner organisations and, as appropriate, other Parties and experts, to:

  • review existing strategies and develop new approaches to combat illegal trade in ivory;
  • propose measures to African and Asian enforcement authorities to promote long-term collaboration between them, for example through exchange programmes or the secondment of law enforcement officers from destination or transit countries to source countries and vice versa;
  • examine and advise about existing DNA-based and forensic identification techniques for sourcing and ageing ivory, identify relevant forensic facilities and research institutions, and consider the need for further research in these areas;
  • develop, in cooperation with the World Bank and other ICCWC partners, an anti-money-laundering and asset recovery manual with a specific focus on wildlife crime, that can be used for the training of investigators, prosecutors and judges. The Secretariat shall, subject to external funding contact each Party identified in the ETIS report of TRAFFIC as being of ‘secondary concern’ (Cameroon, China, the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mozambique, Nigeria and Uganda) and each country identified in the same document as being of‘importance to watch’ (Angola, Cambodia, Japan, Laos People’s Democratic Republic. Qatar and United Arab Emirates) to seek clarification on their implementation of CITES and other provisions concerning control of trade in elephant ivory and ivory markets, and report its findings and recommendations at the 65th meeting of the Standing Committee.

In terms of compliance and law enforcement, a decision was adopted that the Secretary-General of CITES would write to the President of the United Nations Security Council and the Secretariat General of the United Nations to convey the concerns of the Parties to CITES about:

a) the levels of illegal killing of elephants in Africa and the related illegal trade in elephant ivory;

b) the national security implications for certain countries in Africa of this illegal killing and trade; and

c) request that these concerns be brought to the attention of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council;

It was also decided that CITES Secretary-General, Mr John Scanlon, will consult with the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to further explore the most appropriate way to draw these concerns to the attention of the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly.

In addition, CITES Parties involved in large-scale ivory seizures – a seizure of 500kg or more – is in future expected to collect and submit samples from the ivory seized to an appropriate forensic analysis facility within 90 days of the seizure to determine the origin of the ivory samples with the aim of addressing the entire crime chain. South Africa welcomed these decisions.

Amendments to the Resolution relating to the trade in elephant specimens were adopted and South Africa is of the view that the amendment that now requires more countries to take national measures to address illegal activities involving ivory and other elephant specimens will assist in addressing concerns related to these crimes.

With regard to cheetah, a decision was adopted to undertake an independent study of both the legal and illegal trade in wild cheetah, and the impacts of this trade on the conservation of these animals. The study will investigate the sources of cheetahs in illegal trade, transit routes of trafficked cheetahs and document measures taken with regard to confiscated live specimens. South Africa supported the adoption of the decision.

But, it was not only decisions related to the conservation of species that were taken. CITES members also decided on future procedural matters. This included the decision that countries will be permitted to continue requesting a secret ballot on controversial issues, such as elephant ivory trade or the international trade of critically endangered species such as tiger, following a proposal for full openness in voting in future.

The South African delegation played an instrumental role in ensuring that CITES’ Rules of Procedure could in future only be amended through a two-thirds majority vote. In the spirit of constructiveness and cooperation, South Africa had chaired the Working Group on the Rules of Procedure in the hope of reaching consensus on the proposals to amend the rules that guide decision-making and the procedures followed to amend the rules.

South Africa was successful in ensuring that amendments of the rules be considered as a substantive amendment, thus resulting in the future requirement of a two-thirds majority and not a simple majority vote when deciding on important conservation issues. It was as a result of this decision that a motion brought to amend the procedure for voting by secret ballot, especially on controversial issues, did not pass.

A decision was taken by the Parties that CITES-related projects eligible for Global Environment Facility funding be identified by member states and prioritised within their National Biodiversity Action Plans. That would include issues covered by the African Elephant Action Plan.

The message the South African delegation had brought to CITES, as one of the organisation’s founding members, was supported by the government’s policy of sustainable utilisation of natural resources as a biodiversity conservation tool. It is because of adaptive management and sustainable utilisation practices that South Africa has developed and maintained a proud conservation record, and communities have contributed to the Conservation of species while benefiting financially from the restoration and protection of species.

One of these is the Tyhefu Traditional Authority Community in the Eastern Cape, which has been able to send children to school, provide food and clothes to community members and upgrade general living conditions through the harvesting of Aloe Ferox and the provision of crystalised sap to local and international markets for creams and medicines.

Mr Mangwanandile Mjoli of the Msutu royal family, representing the Tyhefu community of Peddie, told delegates at a side event on the roles communities play in conservation while benefiting from the species, that predominantly women and youth with a low level of education harvest aloe leaves on the 50 000ha being utilised.

Besides the educational and financial benefits to the community, unemployment and crime levels have decreased, the community is moving out of extreme poverty as it is now able to not only buy clothes and pay for housing, but also school fees for the children. In addition, traditional knowledge of the medicinal purposes of the aloe is being utilised.

The future of the project includes the development of a business plan for the Tyhefu Traditional Council Aloe Project, the establishment of technical capacity in equipment and skills for processing, gaining greater market access and establishing new market partners, appointing environmental monitors to ensure the project remained viable and the species being harvested continued to expand and establishing cultivation sites for sustained supply chain. It is through projects like these that it becomes clear that without conservation of a species, communities living with it will not benefit, or survive. Our rural economy will remain stagnant and South Africa’s Bioprospecting initiatives will not be as successful as they are today.

A resolution was adopted at the COP that addressed matters relating to livelihoods. This means that the listing of certain species in the Appendices can impact on the livelihoods of poor rural communities. The resolution provides guidance through the creation of a toolkit in terms of which importing and exporting nations are required to assess the impacts of their actions on poor rural communities and the species being utilised. It also provides for measures that can be introduced to address any possible consequences of trade decisions, including aid.

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