The "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora" (CITES), also known as Washington Convention is an international legally binding agreement. It was signed on 03/03/1973 and came into force on 01/07/1975. Currently there are 184 Parties (including European Union) to this Convention. The main objective of CITES is to regulate international trade of wild animal and plant species so that it does not threaten their survival in the wild. More than 40,000 plant and animal species are covered in three Appendices of CITES according to varying degrees of protection accorded to them. Three principles governing international trade of CITES listed species are as follows:
- Legality: The species/their parts/products/derivatives etc. being internationally traded should be legally obtained. Parties are required to obtain legal procurement certificates to ensure legality.
- Sustainability: The international trade in CITES listed species/their parts/products/derivatives etc. should be sustainable and it should not be detrimental for survival of those species in the wild. Parties are required to conduct Non-Detrimental Findings (NDFs) studies to confirm sustainability.
- Traceability: International trade in CITES listed species/their parts/products/derivatives etc. should be traceable. To ensure traceability Parties are required to issue CITES Permits/Certificates containing all details of the import/export/introduction from the sea of CITES listed species. The details of these CITES Permits/Certificates are required to be shared with CITES Secretariat in National Annual Reports of the Parties to be incorporated in the CITES Trade Database.
CITES Permits/Certificates are main instruments for regulation of international trade of CITES listed species. Para 3(l) of Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP18) of CITES recommends that “all Parties consider the development and use of electronic permits and certificates”. Despite this not all Parties to CITES have implemented eCITES Permit System. As per CITES Website countries like USA, France, Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, Uganda, Belgium, Switzerland, Norway etc. have some form of electronic CITES permit system. Mozambique and Sri Lanka have adopted the ASYCUDA eCITES solution. Other countries seem to have adopted their own eCITES Permit System. Following Map shows the current status of adoption of eCITES Permit System by Parties to CITES. (Source: https://cites.org/eng/prog/eCITES)
From the above Map it's clear that most of the Parties to CITES don't have eCITES Permit System in place as of now.
Disadvantages of Paper based CITES Permit System: Major disadvantages of Paper based CITES Permit System are following:
- Fake Permits: Paper based CITES Permits can easily be forged by wildlife traffickers using ICT Tools and in collusion with corrupt officials responsible for issunace of CITES Permits or officials of Press responsible for printing Papers for CITES Permits.
- Delay in clearance of Import/Export consignments of CITES listed species: Before giving clearances of Import/Export consignments of CITES listed species, customs authorities/CITES Management Authorites generally veryfy the genuinity of CITES Permits by sending e-mails to the CITES Permits issuing Management Authorities for confrming the veracity of the same which results in delay in the clearance and increase in cost for the importer/exporter.
- Mismatch in data of Import and Export of CITES listed species: Paper based CITES Permits System results in manual compilation of data for CITES Annual Report by Parties to CITES to be submitted to the CITES Secretariat for CITES Trade Database: As the CITES Management Authorities are not exchanging information with each other electronically regarding CITES Permits issued by them, many a time mismatch of data as reported by Management Authorities of Exporting and Importing countries in respect of CITES listed species are observed. This happens because to increase their competitiveness in international trade, countries are adopting risk-based approach and trade facilitation measures which result in automated clearance of most of the import-export consignments without assessment & examination by the customs authorities. Due to this, many times CITES Management Authorities of importing countries may not be aware about import of CITES listed species in their countries if the importers or the customs brokers do not submit copies of CITES Import Permits to them in respect of consignments which are cleared without assessment & examination.
Advantages of eCITES Permit System:
- eCITES is a cloud-based system that automates application, processing & issuance of electronic CITES Permits. Applicant can track his application status online and submit requisite documents and replies to the queries online. It also brings transparency and accountability.
- eCITES Platform can electronically integrate all stakeholders responsible for proper implementation of CITES in a country such as CITES Management Authorities, Scientific Authorities (who conducts Non-Detrimental Findings (NDF) Studies, Authorities responsible for issuing Legal Acquisition Certificates, Authorities responsible for issuing Licence for Import/Export of CITES listed species, Authorities responsible for fixing quota for export of CITES Listed species, Competent Authorities responsible for issuing Comparable Ducumentations for export of CITES listed species in case that particular Party has entered a reservation against inclusion of that particular species in CITES, Enforcement Focal Point etc. for better co-ordination and implementation of CITES provisions.
- It is very useful in monitoring the quota fixed for export of CITES listed species. As and when quota is exhausted, system would flag that to ensure no export Permit is issued in excess of the fixed quota.
- It facilitates electronic CITES permit information exchange between Management Authorities and respective Customs Authorities as well as among Management Authorities of importing, exporting and re-exporting countries in a safe and secure manner. It makes verification of CITES Permits (with QR Codes) easier and faster resulting in increased trade facilitaion for bona fide traders. It also helps in detection of forged CITES Permits & in combating smuggling of CITES listed species by taking appropriate legal enforcement action against the traffickers.
- It may also help in monitoring trends and patterns in international trade of CITES listed species. If a particular CITES listed species is being exported by a Party to the other Party in a quantity which is in excess to the quantity that exporting country is known to have, it may be sign of laundering of the CITES listed species smuggled from some other country in collusion with the corrupt officials of the exporting country who issue Legal Acquisition Certificates/CITES Permits for those smuggled species.
- When embedded with Risk Analytical Tool, eCITES may also help in identifying the risk indicators in respect of import and export of CITES listed species which may be incorpoarted in the Customs Risk Management System for interdiction of risky CITES listed wildlife consignments.
- eCITES may automate the generation of CITES Annual Report and CITES Annual Illegal Trade Reports with accuracy ruling out the possibility of error that may occur in manual compilation of data.
- eCITES may also solve the problem of mismatch between the trade data reported by importing and exporting countries as it facilitates the electronic exchange of data of CITES Permits between various Parties. It may also help in ascertaining the actual quantity of import and export against the quantity mentioned in CITES Permit through Customs as they will also be part of eCITES Platform.
Way Forward: All Parties to the CITES who have not yet developed eCITES must strive to develop it at the earliest. They can either go for ASYCUDA eCITES Solution developed jointly by CITES Secretariat and UNCTAD or they can develop their own full-fledged eCITES Ecosystem with all stakeholders on board. Simialry, Parties who have already deveolped some kind of eCITES Platform should augment it into full-fledged eCITES Ecosystem with all stakeholders on board.
Management Authorities of all Parties to CITES must use EPIX Connect (https://epix-staging.linode.unep-wcmc.org/) for electronic permit information exchange (EPIX) instead of exchange of paper permits. EPIX Connect may also be used for verification of details of CITES Permits. Currently EPIX Connect is being implemented for direct, point-to-point (P2P) electronic CITES Permit data exchange between the Management Authorities of the exporting and importing country which may also be further developed as a Central Exchange Hub for CITES Permits with consensus among all Parties.