International Convention Cracks Down on World’s Largest Wildlife Traffic – Illicit Rosewood Trade
Washington, D.C. – The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) commends the unprecedented decision taken by the Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to stop the illegal and unsustainable multi billion dollar illegal trade in rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) that has persisted in violation of the Convention since 2017.
The West African rosewood species commonly known as “kosso” (Pterocarpus erinaceus) – “keno” or “bois de vêne” – is the world’s most trafficked wildlife product with an annual trade value that is higher than elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolins, shark fins, and big cat parts combined.
The rosewood crisis has devastated West African forests and its people for almost a decade. Illegal and unsustainable trade in P. erinaceus has persisted despite the listing on Appendix II (in effect since January 2017) of CITES. Recent reports from or commissioned by the CITES Secretariat, have shed light on an international trade from the region that has grown in violation of the Convention.
In response, Parties agreed at SC74 on unprecedented measures to tackle the violation of the Convention across West Africa. According to the Notification to the Parties, the West African range States have until April 27, 2022 to demonstrate the international trade complies with the Convention by providing a non-detriment finding (NDF) and legal acquisition finding (LAF) or formally stopping the trade by requesting the Secretariat to publish a voluntary zero export quota for kosso. It is worth noting that as of the 25th Meeting of the Plants Committee in June 2021, none of the range States had produced a scientifically robust NDF.
The CITES Notification, based on decisions by the Standing Committee, also sent a clear message to importing countries, namely China and Vietnam, to immediately stop the trade in kosso: “Meanwhile, all importing Parties are requested to reject all export permits concerning Pterocarpus erinaceus, based on concerns related to the sustainability and legality of the international trade in specimens of that species.”
For over five years, EIA has followed, exposed, and disrupted Sino-African trafficking networks across West Africa, including in Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Senegambia, and Mali. EIA’s new analysis released at the 74th meeting of the Standing Committee (SC74), based on CITES trade data from 2016 to 2020, indicates an alarming 1.9 million ton discrepancy between quantities reported by exporters and importers. Importers have reported more than double the quantity reported by exporters.
Multiple range States have regularly raised the alarm regarding the challenges they face to combat transnational organized traffickers. A report submitted by Senegal at SC74 highlights the limits of the one-country approach, recommending a comprehensive regional strategy that combines strengthened controls and enforcement with increased financial and technical support to West African range States. Raphael Edou, Africa Program Manager for EIA’s Forest Campaigns explains: “The determination that certain range States have demonstrated to face the challenge of the rosewood crisis is impressive and inspiring. They now need the support from the Secretariat, the demand side countries, and other CITES Parties to save their forests and protect the livelihoods that depend on them.”
The Standing Committee’s decision and the Notification to the Parties are of global significance. They have the potential to stop in a matter of months, if not weeks, the largest illegal trade in wildlife products in the world. It sets an important precedent regarding the need for Parties to comply with the Convention and demonstrates the importance of regional solutions.