Zimbabwe: CITES - SADC, European Union Cross Swords

African elephants at the Hapoor water hole in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape, South Africa.
29 August 2019

The European Union (EU) and Sadc drew swords at the just-ended Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), with the regional block saying it was "seriously considering" whether there were "meaningful benefits" in being part of the convention.

The EU on Tuesday set itself on a collision course with Sadc after voting for a proposal limiting the export of wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The new resolution means zoos will not be able to import wild-caught African elephants to the United States, China and a number of other countries.

Zimbabwe and Botswana were the last two African nations where the practice was legal.

Surprisingly, the proposal allows for some exceptions relevant to Europe, including allowing an elephant already in an EU country to be shipped to a nearby EU nation without having to be sent back to Africa first.

Sadc, however, has not taken the machinations of the EU lying down.

In her closing remarks to the conference yesterday on behalf of the Sadc member states, general secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said the way in which CITES was operating was contrary to its founding principles, describing the basis of reaching decisions as influenced by "protectionism" at the expense of "science".

This comes in the wake of sentiments by President Mnangagwa earlier this week, expressing similar concerns after CITES denied Zimbabwe to trade stockpiles of ivory, which now have an estimated value of over US$600 million.

In addition, Zimbabwe has a population of over 84 000 elephants against a carrying capacity of about 56 000.

"Mr Chairman, time has come to seriously reconsider whether there are any meaningful benefits from our membership to CITES," said Dr Tax.

"The way in which CITES is currently operating is contrary to its founding principles. Today, CITES discards proven, working conservation models in favour of ideologically driven anti-use and anti-trade models. Such models are dictated by largely non-State actors who have no experience with, responsibility for, or ownership over wildlife resources. The result has been failure to adopt progressive, equitable, inclusive and science based conservation strategies.

"We believe this failure has risen from the domination of protectionist ideology over science decision in making within CITES."

She said the CITES in its preamble accepted the principle of recognising that peoples and states are and should be the best protectors of their own wild fauna and flora, adding that the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992 in Article 3 provides that, States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own environmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Dr Tax said, in addition, CITES in form, substance and implementation was also not aligning to other international agreements of equal weight and arguably greater relevance to today's challenges.

Sadc, she said, was further concerned by the fact that positions from some parties seemed to be based on political considerations aimed at catering for the interest of national, intensively lobbied constituencies as opposed to proven, science based conservation strategies.

She said this undermined the Sadc States upon which the responsibility to manage species falls as well as its ability to do so effectively.

Dr Tax said in its current implementation, CITES also undermines the rights of people living in rural areas of Sadc States to benefit from natural resources in their communities as well as compromising the region's ability to meet obligations and responsibilities to other multilateral agreements.

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