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Hamdan highlights steps taken to lift CITES trade suspension

posted on 26/11/2002: 2000 views

The Standing Committee of the General Secretariat of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) decided in its Forty-seventh meeting held in Santiago -Chile in November to lift endangered wildlife trade suspension that had been imposed by the General Secretariat on the UAE since November last year. The decision came after the UAE government took several urgent actions to combat illegal trade in wildlife, and to reorganize the CITES legal framework in the country. Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Deputy Chairman of the Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency (ERWDA), highlights steps that were made by the UAE government to lift the trade suspension.

The following is the full text of Hamdan's statement issued as a press release by ERWDA today.

Q1) What are the measures that were carried out by the concerned authorities in the UAE that convinced the Standing Committee to reconsider its decision and lift the sanctions?

A1) After the trade suspension, we intensified our efforts to ratify the convention, and urgent actions were taken by the Government to combat illegal trade in wildlife to fully enforce conditions set by the Convention. We invited senior officials from concerned agencies to conduct a high level meeting on December 11, 2001 to discuss the implementation of CITIES Convention in the UAE and the latest development in this regard.

The meeting was attended by Saeed Mohammed Al Raqbani, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hamad Abdul Rahman Al Midfa, Minister of Health and Chairman of the Federal Environment Agency, and officials from the other concerned agencies. The meeting discussed problems related to the implementation of the CITIES in UAE and reviewed actions recommended by ERWDA to be taken by the UAE government to resolve issues relating to the implementation of the convention enforcement in the country. After discussion, the meeting agreed to coordinate with the CITIES Secretariat General to develop the Executive By-laws and the Federal Environment Agency (FEA) was nominated as the UAE CITIES Management Authority in addition to the Ministry of Agriculture. The meeting also agreed to develop a capacity building and training programme for the different levels of staff involved in the implementation of the Convention, in addition to establish a national committee to implement the Convention.

Following this meeting, several meetings were held with government-concerned agencies to implement those decisions. These meetings discussed practical steps which should by taken to crack down on illegal imports or trading in endangered animals and plants, or their products and implement the CITES convention. These meetings came out with many decisions including that the FEA will be issuing permits in the Abu Dhabi Emirate, while the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will be issuing the permits in the Northern Emirates. ERWDA was also appointed as CITES scientific authority in the UAE.

In April 2002, CITES assessed the Country's measures taken to implement the convention, and the Standing Committee decided to withdraw its pervious recommendation for trade suspension with the UAE in three phases. The first phase concerned the withdrawal of the suspension for non-commercial trade other than birds of prey which was enforced immediately at that time. The second phase concerns the trade in falcon, where the withdrawal of the non-commercial trade in falcons' species was linked to the UAE implementing a country wide falcons' registration scheme and the CITES secretariat verifying its implementation.

At the end of June, we invited senior officials from concerned agencies to conduct another high-level meeting to review obstacles that the Management Authority is facing in the implementation of the convention. The meeting decided that UAE is not to withdraw from the Convention and that all concerned parties to put all their efforts on implementing the convention in coordination with various official Agencies in the country. It was also agreed to set up a committee on the national level under the chairmanship of Saeed Mohammed Al Raqbani, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries with Ahmed Al Sayegh as Deputy Chairman of the Committee, and membership of all the concerned agencies.

The committee's mission was to put in place a strategy and action plan pertaining to implementation or withdrawal from the Convention. The meeting discussed also actions which have been taken to develop a system for controlling falcons' movements in and out of the country.

The CITES Secretariat sent a verification mission to the UAE from 27 July to 1st August. During the visit the team reviewed the progress made by the UAE concerning the Falcons' registration scheme, database and procedures and proceeded with random checks on falcons' owners and facilities in Abu Dhabi's Western and Eastern regions, Dubai and Umm Al Qaiwain. The mission was a success and the CITES officials were extremely please and impressed by the work done by the respective UAE agencies in charge of implementing the CITES convention in the UAE.

The non-commercial trade for birds of prey was therefore resumed immediately with UAE. The last phase of the withdrawal of the suspension on commercial trade was completed with issuing the new federal law to regulate trade in endangered flora and fauna, endorsed by the Federal Cabinet in July and issued by the UAE's President in October. The CITES Secretariat officials were pleased with this progress in the UAE's efforts, especially the introduction of the new falconry and falcon-keeping regulations and the Federal Law. Therefore, ban on endangered fauna and flora trade was lifted shortly after these developments.

Q2) What is the importance of implementing the new Federal Law on Regulating and Controlling International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora?

A2) Issuing this law and its regulations is necessary to enforce the Convention, which helps to identify strict legal procedures to control illegal trade in wildlife trade and penalize violators. The three appendices, attached with the CITES, were also attached with this law. The Federal Law goes into effect six months from the date of its publication in the Official Gazette. The concerned agencies will join hands to reinforce the law, issued by President H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan and sanctioned by the Federal Cabinet.

The 40-article law specifies role of the Management Authority and Scientific Authority. It also specifies the International Trade and Documents thereof on export, re-export and import of any specimen of the species included in the appendices. According to the new law, only those possessing permits will be allowed to trade in these species. The law determines penalties on violators which range between imprisonment for three months and fines of not more than Dh 50,000.

Q3) How does the falcon registration scheme work?

A3) The falcon registration scheme is a first for the Arabian Peninsula and will greatly improve the reputation of the falconers and the UAE abroad. This system is the result of collective efforts from FEA, MAF and ERWDA, as well as the active participation of various faclons' hospitals, breeding facilities and private owners. Several countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, expressed an interest in implementing a similar scheme. The system allows the falconers to travel with their birds in a legal way, protecting their reputation and the one of the UAE, and at the same time will provide Environment Protection Agency with a mean to manage the effects of falconry on the population of wild falcons.

Contacts were made with several falcon range countries to facilitate the implementation of the UAE system that will allow movement. As part of the registration scheme, all falcons actually in the UAE must be registered with the FEA or MAF. Also the new falcons entering the UAE must all have proper CITES documentation to enter the country, otherwise the UAE authorities will immediately confiscate them. Within three weeks of their arrival in the UAE, all new birds should be registered with the FEA or MAF. So far around 4,000 falcons have been registered in Abu Dhabi and Northern Emirates.

Q4) What is CITES?

A4) CITES is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. It regulates international trade in over 30,000 species of fauna and flora.

CITES was recommended as a result to a resolution adopted in 1963 at a meeting of members of IUCN (The World Conservation Union). The final draft of the Convention was approved at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington DC. United States of America, on March 3, 1973, and on July 1, 1975 CITES entered into force. UAE was the country number 104 to sign this Convention. It is a signatory since May 9, 1990. The species covered by CITES are listed in three Appendixes, appendix I of the Convention covers endangered species, trade in which is to be tightly controlled, appendix II covers species that may become endangered unless trade is regulated, appendix III covers species that any party wishes to regulate and requires international cooperation to control trade.

Q5) Why did the CITES take its decision to suspend trade with UAE?

A5) The Geneva-based CITES Secretariat decided to suspend trade with the UAE as CITES was particularly concerned about the trade in endangered species. This decision meant that import, export or re-export of any of the CITES listed species is not allowed to and from UAE. The CITES Secretariat has also appealed to its 155 member-countries not to trade in endangered species with the UAE. This recommendation means that countries that are party to CITES will not accept or issue the documentation necessary for the transfer of CITES-listed animals to and from the UAE.

But CITES was particularly concerned about the illegal trade in caviar and animals - particularly falcons, houbara bustards and cheetahs. The illegal trade in caviar via the UAE played a key role in the suspension of the UAE from the CITES trade partnership. The turnover involving the illegal caviar trade via the UAE has been put at US$30 million in a mere eight months, affecting the economy of countries producing the product under a system that complies with CITES' conditions. Illegal trade in and via the UAE of other endangered species such as falcon, Houbara bustards and cheetah were also noted at that time.

Q6) Is the CITES decision to lift the sanctions final or more efforts should be taken by the UAE in the coming period?

A6) This decision was final and the UAE will now focus its efforts to regulate trade in endangered flora and fauna, through implementing of Federal Law No. 11 and falcon registration scheme. The training of concerned staff of various Agencies in the country involved in the implementation of the Convention is another concern at this stage. A two-year capacity building and training programme for CITES officers and all parties involved in the implementation of the Convention was designed by ERWDA and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) Office in UAE. The programme, which started early this year, aims to train officials of authorities concerned, such as customs, municipalities and agriculture and fisheries departments, about CITES' listed wild fauna and flora Concerned agencies are also developing a database on a CD ROM listing the CITES endangered species and their products, also a number of leaflets will be prepared and distributed to all parties involved in the implementation of the Convention.

Q7) Will this incident affect the UAE's reputation abroad?

A7) No doubt this incident has its negative impact on the UAE's reputation abroad, especially since the UAE is known worldwide for its deep commitment for wildlife conservation under the wise leadership of the President H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who has been honoured over the years in a variety of ways, including major awards such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Gold Panda Award, which he received in recognition of his individual efforts and the commitment of the country as a whole to the cause of conservation. With a leadership strongly committed to environment and wildlife protection and conservation, the UAE focused its efforts in the last few years on implementing a comprehensive development plan taking into consideration environmental approaches among its top priorities. (The Emirates News Agency, WAM)


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