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Special Report

Economic, political clout swayed many decisions at CITES meeting

Small nations were lobbied to vote in favour of influential countries

The discussions on animal and plant trade protection under the world wildlife and plant convention have come to an end, but nasty tactics by influential powers have been blamed for many of the decisions made.

Economic and political power were used to pressure small countries to cast their votes to support, oppose or abstain from voting on proposals that would have been economically costly for them.

Polar bears, elephants, rhinos, tigers, sharks and rays were the most widely debated among the 71 proposals submitted to more than 2,000 participants from more than 150 countries at the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP16) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) in Bangkok.

Delegates spent the first four days deciding whether they wanted to change the procedure to cast votes - using secret ballots for each proposal.

The Earth Negotiation bulletin distributed during the forum noted that some delegates feared the attitudes and lobbying seen in the first two days pointed to "nasty debates" and tactics in the days ahead, particularly on the question of the listing of sharks.

Others remained optimistic, saying that such tactics would not prevent this year from becoming the year of the sharks. Many pointed to growing Latin American, African and Arab support for listing the porbeagle, hammerhead and oceanic white-tip shark.

Lobbying on the proposed uplisting of polar bears was seen in full force, with one delegate commenting that "we've seen polar bears everywhere", referring to the prevalence of plush polar bear toys being distributed by some NGOs and paraded by conference staff. Another was worried that "scientific misinformation" would confuse delegates.

After the delegates had decided to use secret ballots to cast their vote, the proposal on polar bears - submitted by the US - triggered intense debate, primarily due to opposition from Canada, Greenland, and Norway, all of which are range states for polar bears. The final tally for the vote was 38 in favour, 42 against, and 46 abstentions.

"The US did not provide us with enough information about the risk of extinction of the polar bear. They just said the polar bear will disappear due to impact of climate change in the next 10 years, 20 years and so on," Terry Audla, a representative of Canada's indigenous Inuit people who live in the Arctic region and rely on polar bear hunting, said.

Unlike polar bear, sharks and rays were overwhelmingly supported by most of the parties as they learnt that five shark species - including the oceanic white-tip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, and porbeagle shark - and the manta ray are being caught for their fins and meat. Due to their low population, these five shark species and manta ray were listed under Appendix II of CITES. However, getting these species listed under the protection of CITES was heavily opposed by Japan and China.

This victory might be shortlived as environmentalist and delegates have learned that leading economic powers like Japan are lobbying several countries, developing ones among them, to reopen the vote on the five shark species and manta ray.

"We have seen the delegates being approached by Japanese delegates and political and economic pressures being applied. The pressure varies according to the ties with the country," said Ralf Sontag, a director of German International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Shark Advocates International president Sonja Fordham said she saw increasing strong voice from developing countries like Western African countries, Latin American nations, and Middle east countries to negotiate with powerful country like US, China, and Japan.

" There are very critical factors for this meeting," she said.

The discussion heated up when the parties started talking about ways to stop illegal ivory and rhino horn trade. But there was no proposal to move ivory trade to a less stringent list or lift the global ban.

Not only the polar bear, elephant, rhino and shark, but there was heavy lobbying for two species of crocodiles - Siamese freshwater crocodile and saltwater crocodile as well.

The Thai delegation that submitted proposals had held special meetings, inviting representatives from at least 20 nations to inform them on how these two crocodiles should be delisted from top protection and moved to the Appendix II for trade. Unfortunately, just a few members at the meeting backed this proposal.However, Germany based International Fund for Animal Welfare’s director Ralf P. Sontag said many countries around the world are worried about the economic consequences from the CITES’s listing and implementation.

" A lot of argument that present in the committee is about what is gonna cost and have enough resources," he said.

Theerapat Prayurasiddhi, who is deputy director-general of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, said he was disappointed with the failure, saying the decision to cast votes were based on economic factors rather than conservation.

Delegation from EU Maurice Clarke said the most important factor to make decision to up or down list the animal under the CITES’s protection should based on scientific datas.

" We must stress that listing species on CITES does not stop the use of population that being exploited but it must take place and based on sustainable exploitation," he said.

Freeland Foundation's director, Steve Galster, was disappointed by this CITES meeting, saying it was a lot of compromise with illegal wildlife and plant trade." No more room for comprosie," he said, adding that each party should strongly enforce the law to handle with the wildlife criminal gangs.

The next meeting of CITES will be held in South Africa, where people are allowed to hunt rhinos for sport.


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