Hong Kong Customs displays 82.5kg of rhino horns from South Africa and destined for Malaysia. Photo: ISD

New CITES Regulations to Combat Multi-Billion Dollar Illegal Trade of Precious Woods

In an historic move, 183 governments gathered in South Africa adopted a number of new measures to regulate the global rosewood trade.

JOHANNESBURG — The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) adopted new regulations that will subject approximately 80 percent of the multi-billion dollar global trade in precious rosewoods to stricter regulation and increased transparency to assess legality and sustainability. Since 2010 there has been a booming rise in demand, and the trade in rosewood has been characterized by unprecedented levels of illegality, unsustainability and violence in source countries. According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total value of seized illegal rosewood between 2005 and 2014 is higher than all seizures related to elephants, big cats, rhinoceros, pangolins, parrots and marine turtles combined. China and Vietnam, the chief trade and processing hubs, represent the predominant end markets for rosewood, used mostly in luxury furniture.

These new listings include an entire genus of plants, Dalbergia, covering over 300 species on Appendix II of the CITES convention, meaning only controlled trade in sustainable volumes will be allowed. The initiative, led by Guatemala and other Latin American countries, was designed to list the remaining Dalbergia species under extreme threat as well as close a long-standing loophole that has allowed smugglers to avoid detection by purposefully labeling illegal trade of regulated tree species as unlisted.

Senegal and ten other West African range States successfully championed a proposal to list the “kosso” tree (Pterocarpus erinaceus), by far the most traded African precious wood by volume, on Appendix II. The trade in this species has grown 65-fold in the past six years alone, with the equivalent of 45 containers leaving the African continent every day, most of it illegal. This activity is devastating Savannah ecosystems, imperiling local livelihoods, and threatening regional security efforts.

Senegalese delegate Babacar Salif Gueye, Technical Advisor to the Minister of Environment, said of the decisions, “Criminal groups continue to smuggle kosso timber in large volumes despite the logging and harvest bans that many countries have already in place. Once the logs arrive in China, they can be legally sold. We can only solve this crisis with the help of the international community. We are therefore very happy about the decisions adopted by the conference.”

CITES members also unanimously approved a change in regulation to close a loophole that has allowed the illicit trade in Siamese rosewood to continue, devastating 98 percent of the population and bringing it dangerously close to extinction. The rare and growingly coveted African bubinga tree (Guibourtia spp.) was also approved for stronger protection and listed on Appendix II.

“The insatiable demand for hongmu in Vietnam and China has driven boom and bust cycles that have literally depleted Southeast Asia forests, and then have moved to new frontiers, like West Africa. At CoP17 source countries have united their forces to stop this crisis,” said Forest Campaigner, Louise Bartlett-Truslove, of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). “Now implementation becomes the priority, as the new rules will only be as strong as the commitment and actions to enforce them.”

“Governments increasingly recognize the need for global legal norms to stop illegal logging and associated trade,” said Lisa Handy, EIA’s Director of Forest Campaigns. “CITES is an important piece of equation, but even with these historic listings very few species in trade are covered by CITES. We need more of the key consumer nations, such as China, Japan and Vietnam, to join the US, the EU and Australia in establishing national laws to effectively prohibit the imports of illegally harvested that is driving the illicit trade.”

Maggie Dewane, EIA Press Officer, [email protected], (202) 483-6621