GENEVA - A meeting of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species or CITES is threatening to sanction two countries-Thailand and Madagascar--if they do not take action to stop the illegal trade in ivory and timber. A record 400 participants attended this week-long meeting in Geneva.
This international meeting on wildlife trade is putting Thailand and Madagascar on notice they will pay a heavy price if they do not take measures to end the illegal trade in ivory and Rosewood timber.
CITES, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, says yearly profits from the illegal trade in wildlife amounts to about $20 billion. But, that huge sum is dwarfed by the hundreds of billions of dollars raked in each year from the illegal trade in commercially valuable timber and fisheries or marine life.
Conservationists say this lucrative illegal trade has reached unprecedented levels and must be stemmed. They note Thailand's ivory market, which is the largest unregulated market in the world, is fueled by ivory from poached African elephant tusks smuggled into the country.
CITES figures show poachers kill more than 20,000 African elephants each year. Chair of CITES Standing Committee, Oystein Storkersen, says the Conference has told Thailand it must strictly enforce its legislation against illegal trade in wildlife or face serious consequences.
'They were given a set deadline to report back to the Standing Committee and we also heard at the meeting that unless there is a positive outcome of that tightening as I said registration of importers, traders, producers and so on, and stockpiles then Thailand will face a ban, a suspension of all trade, no matter what commodities it is of the 35,000 species listed with CITES. I think that is a very strong signal to send to a country," said Storkersen.
Possible sanctions would affect Thailand's lucrative trade in species including ornamental plants, such as orchids, and reptile leather. Activists welcome this action. They say the world has taken a big step toward saving the last African elephants from extinction.
The meeting also has taken steps to curtail the illegal trade in rhino horn in Vietnam and Mozambique. These two countries also were put on notice they could face sanctions if they do not take measures to stamp out this illegal trade.
The CITES committee has analyzed the levels of illegal trade in precious timber and the enforcement measures taken by customs in several transit countries. It estimates more than 4,000 tons of rosewood, which is suspected to have been illegally exported from Madagascar, has been seized in various countries.
European Union Representative, Giovanni Coviello, says the scale of the illegal logging and trade from Madagascar has reached alarming levels.
"We are all sadly aware, I can say that illegal logging accounts for up to 30 percent of the global timber trade and it contributes to more than 50 percent of tropical deforestation in the Central Africa as well as in the Amazon and in South-East Asia. We know that this causes huge loss of landscape, vegetation cover and biodiversity naturally. We know that one of the direct environmental impacts of illegal logging in Madagascar is the habitat destruction of many species, especially for the endangered lemurs," said Coviello.
The next CITES meeting takes place in August 2015. All countries put on notice will have to submit progress reports before that date. But, they will have to develop national action plans to curb the illegal trade in wildlife projects by the August deadline or face sanctions.