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Background to CITES

What is CITES?Lizard

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed in Washington DC on 3 March 1973 and entered into force on 1 January 1975. The up to date list of Parties to CITES is available at the CITES website. All EU Member States are Parties to the Convention.

The purpose of CITES is to ensure that no species of wild fauna and flora becomes or remains subject to unsustainable exploitation because of international trade.

CITES regulates international trade in specimens of species of wild fauna and flora, i.e. export, re-export and import of live and dead animals and plants and of parts and derivatives thereof, based on a system of permits and certificates which can be issued if certain conditions are met and which have to be presented before consignments of specimens are allowed to leave or enter a country.

How does CITES work?


The animal and plant species subject to different degrees of regulation are listed in one of three Appendices:

Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction and for which trade must be subject to particularly strict regulation and only authorised in exceptional circumstances.

Appendix II species are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but may become so unless trade is strictly regulated. Appendix II further contains so-called look-alike species, which are controlled because of their similarity in appearance to the other regulated species, thereby facilitating a more effective control thereof.

Appendix III contains species that are subject to regulation within the jurisdiction of a Party and for which the cooperation of other Parties is needed to prevent or restrict their exploitation.

The listing of species in Appendices I and II requires a two-thirds majority decision by the Conference of the Parties (CoP). Parties can, however, list native species in Appendix III on their own initiative.

The up to date list of species listed in the three Appendices of CITES is available at the CITES website.


Authorities Responsible

Each Party must designate one or more Management Authorities responsible for issuing CITES permits and certificates, subject to the advice from one or more Scientific Authorities designated for that purpose.

The list of CITES authorities in the EU is available here (pdf 689KB).


Permits and Certificates

Conditions for the issuance of permits and certificates involve questions with regard to whether or not trade as such, or a certain type of trade in a species, will be detrimental to its survival, the legal acquisition of specimens, the preparation for shipment of live specimens and, for Appendix I species, whether the importer has suitable facilities to house and care for live specimens. Imports of Appendix I specimens cannot take place if they are to be used for primarily commercial purposes.

The Convention provides for several conditioned exemptions from its provisions. These concern

  • transit and transhipments,
  • specimens acquired before the Convention became applicable to them,
  • certain specimens that are personal or household effects,
  • captive bred animals and artificially propagated plants,
  • the non-commercial cross-border movement of musical instruments,
  • the exchange of specimens in the collection of scientists and scientific institutions and of captive bred or pre-Convention specimens held by travelling exhibitions.

Further information about permits and certificates is available here.


Monitoring and reporting

The monitoring of trade is an essential tool for achieving the aims of the Convention. Scientific Authorities monitor export permits granted for Appendix II species and the actual export thereof. They advise their Management Authorities on when to limit the issue of export permits whenever they determine that exports should be limited in order to maintain a species throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystems in which it occurs and well above the level at which it might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I.

A second important monitoring system is based on the trade records kept by all Parties and reported to the Secretariat on an annual basis. In their annual reports, Parties are required to submit data on all trade in specimens of species covered by CITES. Trade data from all Parties together provides statistical information on the total volume of world trade in CITES species, which is available here.

These annual reports further reflect the performance of Parties regarding CITES implementation when all reported exports and re-exports are compared with all reported imports. In addition to the compilation of annual reports, the European Commission has been publishing an analysis of the EU annual reports, the so-called "Yearbook".

Thirdly, Parties report to the Secretariat every two years for the so-called Biennial Report on the legislative, regulatory and administrative measures taken to ensure enforcement of CITES.



The CITES Secretariat has a co-ordinating, advisory and servicing role fundamental for the working of the Convention.

The Conference of the Parties (CoP) is convened every two to three years and considers proposals to amend the Appendices, review the implementation of CITES and progress made and makes recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the Convention.

The CoP recommendations may take the form of Resolutions or Decisions. Resolutions are generally intended to provide long-standing guidance while Decisions are mostly directed to a specific body of CITES (e.g. Animals Committee, CITES Secretariat) and are designed to be implemented by a specified deadline. Both instruments are important tools for the development of the Convention, but are not legally binding unless incorporated into new legal texts as is usually the case in the EU when new Commission Regulations are adopted/amended.

The Conference of the Parties established a number of permanent committees, which play an important role in between the CoPs: the Standing Committee, the Animals Committee and the Plants Committee.

The Standing Committee gives policy guidance on the implementation of the Convention and oversees the management of the Secretariat's budget. It also co-ordinates the work of the other committees and drafts resolutions for consideration by the Conference of the Parties.

CITES Reservations

Any Party to CITES can make a statement in order not to be bound by CITES provisions concerning a particular species listed in the Appendices (or a part or derivative listed in Appendix III). These statements are called reservations. For species included in Appendix I or II, there are restrictions on when a reservation may be entered: either when a State becomes a Party to the Convention or within 90 days after the adoption of an amendment to the Appendices. For species (or parts and derivatives) included in Appendix III, a State may enter a reservation at the time of becoming a Party or at any time thereafter.

A Party that has entered a reservation may withdraw it at any time. While the reservation is in effect, the Party is formally treated as a non-Party with respect to trade in the species (or specimens) concerned. All Parties have the right to enter reservations but, since they can occasionally cause implementation problems CITES Parties adopted Resolution Conf. 4.25. This recommends that Parties who have entered reservations with regard to the inclusion of a species in Appendix I should treat the species as if it were in Appendix II and should include records of the trade in these species in their annual reports.

EU Member States, for example, have entered reservations for three subspecies of foxes (Vulpes vulpes griffithi, Vulpes vulpes montana and Vulpes vulpes pusilla) and for four taxa of mink (Mustela altaica, Mustela erminea ferghanae, Mustela kathiah and Mustela sibirica). These are all CITES Appendix III-listed species proposed by India.

CITES Notifications

The Secretariat is the recipient of information and reports on the implementation of the Convention to the Parties. This is often done through a Notification to the Parties to announce forthcoming meetings, decisions and recommendations of permanent Committees, details on Parties’ legislation, on lost or stolen permits or security stamps, advice on the interpretation or implementation of the Convention, etc. Notifications are also used to distribute revised versions of the Appendices, lists of Parties’ reservations and final texts of Resolutions and Decisions adopted at CoPs.

CITES Export Quotas

Although there is no specific requirement within the text of the Convention to establish quotas that limit the trade in listed species, the use of export quotas has become an effective regulatory tool for international trade in wild fauna and flora. Export quotas are usually set by a Party individually and on a voluntary basis, but they can also be set by the CoP. In most cases, export quotas relate to the calendar year (1 January to 31 December). Before any Party can issue a permit to allow export of specimens of species listed in Appendix I or II, the Scientific Authority of the State must advise that the proposed export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species (a so-called “non-detriment finding”). The setting of an export quota by a Party should in effect meet this requirement by establishing the maximum number of specimens of a species that can be exported over the course of a year without having a detrimental effect on the survival of the species in the wild. To help ensure export quotas are not exceeded, export permits should indicate the number of specimens already exported in the current year and the quota for the species concerned.



There are a number of countries that are not Parties to CITES. The Convention addresses this by requesting that Parties require documentation from non-Parties that substantially conforms to the requirements for CITES permits and certificates.