As with any other illegal activity, it is impossible to provide a precise figure as to the scale and value of wildlife trafficking. But there is no doubt that it has grown considerably in recent years. It is now a multi-million euro criminal business affecting numerous species all over the world. Ivory, rhino horn, tiger products, tropical timber and shark fins are among the most valuable wildlife products found on the black market, but many other species are also concerned, including reptiles, birds, and pangolins. Criminal groups are increasingly involved in wildlife trafficking, which has become a form of transnational organised crime that increasingly resembles trafficking in human beings, drugs and firearms.
What is behind the recent surge in wildlife trafficking?
The key factor is increasing demand for wildlife products, notably in Asia, which has driven up prices steeply. China is the major destination for ivory, and Vietnam for rhino horn. The international community has recognised the urgent need to address the demand side of the problem, but few concrete actions have been taken so far. Other factors include poverty, corruption, a lack of resources for enforcement, low sanction levels and instability in certain regions of the world affected by wildlife trafficking, notably Central Africa.
Why is wildlife trafficking a concern for the EU?
Wildlife trafficking is one of the most serious threats to biodiversity. The survival of a number of species in the wild is directly jeopardised by poaching and the associated illegal trade. Trafficking also undermines many key goals in EU foreign policy and development support, including sustainable development, the rule of law, good governance and peace and stability.
The EU itself is also a major market for illegal wildlife products, and EU airports and ports are important transit points between, in particular, Africa and Asia. Illegal wildlife products are also exported from EU Member States, both to other Member States and to third countries. Every year, some 2500 significant seizures of wildlife products are reported in the EU.
According to Europol's recent threat assessment on environmental crime, the illegal trade in endangered species is an emerging threat in the EU, with organized criminal groups increasingly targeting wildlife. Organized criminal groups involved in wildlife trafficking use corruption, money laundering and forged documents to facilitate their trafficking activities. Beyond this impact on general internal security through organized crime, public health through the spread of disease is also at risk, as animals are smuggled into the EU outside of any sanitary control.
What measures are in place in the EU to combat the problem?
The EU has strict rules for trading endangered species, known as the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations. A Directive on the Protection of the Environment through Criminal Law requires all Member States to ensure that illegal wildlife trade is considered a criminal offence in their national law, and to provide for effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal sanctions. Some EU-level horizontal instruments against organized crime can also provide useful tools for the cooperation between national enforcement authorities in wildlife trafficking cases.
The EU Enforcement Group chaired by the Commission meets twice a year, bringing together law enforcement officers from all EU Member States, Europol, Eurojust, the World Customs Organisation and other organisations to promote cooperation on illegal wildlife trade cases.
In addition, a non-binding Commission Recommendation sets out measures that Member States should implement in order to enhance their efforts to combat illegal trade, including sufficiently high penalties for wildlife trade offences, greater co-operation and exchange of information within and between Member States as well as with third countries and relevant international organizations, or the need for increased public awareness about the negative impacts of illegal wildlife trade.
What has the EU done so far to fight wildlife trafficking globally?
The EU plays an active role in the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which aims to ensure that international trade in some 35 000 protected animal and plant species does not threaten their survival. The Commission recently submitted a proposal for the EU's accession to the Convention, with a view to further strengthening its role as a supporter of strong global action against illegal wildlife trade.
The EU also uses trade policy instruments to improve the implementation of multilateral environmental agreements such as CITES. Provisions are regularly included in the EU's Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with third countries, and developing countries that ratify and implement international conventions on sustainable development and good governance (including CITES) benefit from additional trade preferences, through the Generalised Scheme of Preferences special arrangement (GSP+).
In recent decades the EU has supported a large range of programmes to help developing countries fight wildlife trafficking. In Africa alone, the EU has committed more than EUR 500 million for biodiversity conservation over the past 30 years, with a portfolio of on-going projects worth approximately EUR 160 million. A large number of projects to strengthen governance and the rule of law indirectly also help boost enforcement capacities.
Some recent projects specifically intended to combat wildlife trafficking:
- The EU is the main donor (EUR 1.73 million) to the International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime, which comprises of CITES, Interpol, UNODC, World Bank and the World Customs Organisation. This consortium focus on the international coordination of enforcement efforts and strengthen enforcement and compliance capacity, e.g. by encouraging countries to use its Wildlife and Forest Crime Analytical Toolkit.
- In December 2013, the Commission approved funding to a project known as MIKES (Minimising the Illegal Killing of Elephants and Other Endangered Species) with a grant of EUR 12.3 million. This programme follows an earlier one to monitor the illegal killing of elephants (MIKE) with an overall contribution to the CITES Secretariat of 12 million EUR covering 71 sites in Africa and Asia. The new programme puts greater emphasis on enforcement, and also includes other endangered species in the Caribbean and Pacific regions.
The Commission is aiming to ensure that sufficient funding will be made available in the programming of development cooperation instruments over the next seven years to assist developing countries in their action against wildlife trafficking and to improve international cooperation.
What are other EU institutions and the international community doing about the problem?
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on wildlife crime on 15 January 2014. At the international level, wildlife trafficking has gained attention in a number of important fora over the last year. The UN General Assembly has expressed its deep concern. G8 leaders have committed to fighting illegal wildlife trade in June 2013. Only last week, the Security Council adopted for the first time targeted sanctions against those supporting armed groups or criminal networks in the Central African Republic and the DRC through the illicit exploitation of wildlife and wildlife products.
Individual EU Member States have been active as well. Germany and Gabon (not a MS…) organised a specific meeting during the ministerial week of the last UN General Assembly; President Hollande chaired a round table on wildlife trafficking in the margins of the Elysee Summit on Peace and Security in Africa last December; and the UK government will organise a Summit chaired by Prime Minister Cameron on 13 February 2014.
The European Commission is supporting these initiatives with a view to a continuous strong role for the EU as a whole in the global efforts against wildlife trafficking.
Why does the Commission not propose some additional concrete measures now?
The Commission has launched a public consultation on how the EU can be more effective in combating wildlife trafficking. Before deciding on next steps, the Commission needs to carefully assess the measures in place, identify any gaps, and consider the results of this consultation, which should also help raise awareness about wildlife trafficking outside of traditional environmental circles.
The EU will of course remain active during the consultation. The Commission systematically raises the question in political and trade bilateral relations with key countries such as China, Vietnam and Thailand. It is also an area under discussion with the United States in the framework of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
See also IP/14/123