The international trade of plants and animals


The trade of endangered species such as ivory from elephants and whales for food has been well documented, but did you know that there are thousands of other animals and plants for which there are trade restrictions?

Annually, international wildlife trade is estimated to be worth billions of dollars and entails the trade of a diverse range of produce from live animals and plants, to leather goods, food, wooden instruments and medicines.

In order to ensure the sustainability of these natural resources and to safeguard them for the future, an international agreement is in place. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an agreement between 183 (at present) governments, with the aim to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

All CITES listed species are categorised into one of three groups.

Appendix I lists species that are threatened with extinction. International trade of these species is prohibited except when the purpose of the import is not commercial, such as for scientific research. In these exceptional cases, trade may take place provided it is authorized by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit (or re-export certificate).  All species of sea turtle are listed in CITES Appendix I, restricting international trade of sea turtles and sea turtle products. Despite the restrictions, the black market trade in eggs and meat in the Far East and the coastal nations of Latin America is still rife. Tigers are also listed in Appendix I as the demand for tiger parts for use in traditional Chinese medicine has spelled a major threat to tiger population.

Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily currently threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. For trade in species classified under Appendix II, an export permit or re-export certificate must be granted. No import permit is necessary for the international trade of these species under CITES, although a permit is needed in some countries that have taken stricter measures than CITES requires. Species incorporated in Appendix II include the common snowdrop, including bulbs, live plants and dead plants, and all species of cacti that are not otherwise listed in Appendix I.

Appendix III is a list of species that are protected in at least one country, which needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade in specimens of species listed in this Appendix is allowed if the relevant documentation has been obtained and presented for clearance at the port of entry or exit. ‘Precious’ red corals, highly exploited in the use of jewellery and souvenirs, have been listed in this appendix by China, whilst brown sea cucumbers from Ecuador are also listed in appendix III, given their popularity as a food source amongst the Chinese population.

Although the above outlines the basic requirements for the International trade of CITES listed species, requirements vary from one country to another and countries may havenational laws that may be stricter. As such, anyone planning to import or export/re-export specimens of a CITES species should contact the national CITES Management Authorities of the countries of import and export/re-export for information on the rules that apply.

If you are conducting trade between a country that is not party to CITES and one that is, the country that is a party may accept documentation equivalent to the permits and certificates described.

Key in preventing the illegal trade and over-exploitation of wildlife, the number of species covered by CITES has grown to an extensive list of over 5,600 species of animals and 30,000 species of plants, and the list is ever evolving.  With such a diverse range of species covered by the agreement, and to varying degrees, it can be difficult to ascertain the requirements for the trade of your goods. However, our Customs compliance department is on hand to help ensure that you meet all requirements in the international trade of CITES species.


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