05 May 2020

Venue: Live | Webex Event & Facebook

Organization: Geneva Environment Network

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a treaty that regulates international trade in CITES-listed specimens of animals and plants to ensure that it does not threaten their survival. Meetings of the CITES Animals and Plants Committees and the CITES Standing Committee were scheduled to take place in July and October 2020, respectively.

About the GENeva Environment Dialogues

The GENeva Environment Dialogues’ special COVID-19 series discusses the impacts of the pandemic on the global environmental agenda. Experts are concerned that the world is losing critical time to turn around alarming trends in biodiversity loss, climate change, sound management of chemicals and other environmental threats.

The series addresses the following topics:

  • The impact of the crisis on the invited organization activities
  • The response of the invited organization to the COVID-19 crisis
  • The impacts on the preparations of the conferences and negotiations they are hosting
  • New schedules and programmes for these conferences and negotiations


Facilitators: GEN Team


Secretary-General, CITES


Chief, Governing Bodies and Meeting Services, CITES


Opening remarks

Moderation: Diana Rizzolio, Geneva Environment Network

The Geneva Environment Network has the pleasure to welcome you today virtually for a new session of the Geneva Environment Dialogues, focused on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global environmental agenda. This new series of events will take place bi-weekly and is aimed at keeping you informed on the latest developments of major upcoming negotiations.

Those who generally attend our events in Geneva know that, although our events are broadcasted live, we like to organize physical meetings, where our guests can have informal discussions with other guests or with the experts involved. Unfortunately, most of us are closed at home for a few more weeks or months, and therefore we reconnect with our usual public and some new guests through these virtual events.

Today we have invited the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, to brief us on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their activities and their policy response to the crisis. We will also discuss in a second time the preparations of the various committee meetings that were scheduled to take place this year in Geneva.

CITES and its Upcoming Committee Meetings

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General, CITES

  • Trade in wild species influences zoonotic diseases – contact with animals
  • Not only an issue of wild species (domesticated animals spread diseases)
  • Does it affect CITES?
  • Trade is affected – should be controlled for sanitary issues
  • Trade goes hand-in-hand with sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations
  • Previous diseases spread by birds – impact on trade because it was spread by wild birds as well
  • Evidence-based studies show that regulated trade of a specie has an impact on conservation – incentive on preserving the species, since those whose livelihood depends on the trade of that species will want to preserve it to keep the trade possible
  • People relying on wildlife trade for livelihood are going to be affected
  • CITES is convention which aims to ensure sustainable trade of wild species of animals and plants
  • CITES’ Parties have been reluctant to regulate trade for other reasons in the framework of the convention, but other bodies have roles in sanitary and phyto-sanitary trade regulations

David Morgan, Chief, Governing Bodies and Meeting Services, CITES

  • Intersessional cycle of CITES meetings
  • 31st Meeting of CITES Animals Committee – 10-16 July 2020
  • 25th Meeting of CITES Plants Committee – 20-23 July 2020
  • Joint sessions of the Animals and Plants Committees – 17 July 2020
  • 73rd Meeting of the CITES Standing Committee – 5-10 October 2020
  • Face-to-face meeting considerations:
    • Health and safety of participants and staff
    • National controls on public gatherings
    • Border closures and restrictions
    • Transport limitations
    • Liability if delegates get “trapped” during travel or during the meeting
  • Three options:
    • Cancel
      • Volume of work does not allow it
    • Postpone
      • Lots of meetings already postponed
      • Finding a place to host it in Geneva will be a challenge
      • Finding a host country, which would need to pay the cost of the meeting, will be a challenge
    • Virtual meeting
      • seems the best possible solution
    • Virtual meeting considerations:
      • Tools and platforms choice (ease of use, security, limits, accessibility, interpretation)
      • Rules of Procedure (might not need to be changed, but supplementary guidance might be needed)
      • Decision-making protocols (how to make decisions in an online setting)
      • Cost for participants


Arnaud Goessens

  • To help prevent future zoonotic pandemics, we strongly believe ending commercial wildlife trade for human consumption, and closing commercial markets, as in China, is critical. The Director General of the World Health Organization, made a bold statement on 17th April 2020, stating that “Governments must rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food”. Could the CITES Secretariat clarify its position on this issue?
  • All wildlife trade for human consumption, and closing commercial markets, as in China, is critical. The Director General of the World Health Organization, made a bold statement on 17th April 2020, stating that “Governments must rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food”. Could the CITES Secretariat clarify its position on this issue?
  • On the AC/PC meeting, we appreciate the Secretariat’s efforts and research. We believe that the virtual approach will disadvantage developing countries, and observer (particularly those in development countries), due to limited WIFI access, etc.
  • It would also seriously disadvantage observer NGOs, who often have relevant scientific information but won’t be able to respond in real-time. We would therefore support postponement.
  • Could the CITES Secretariat clarify if they plan to seek expressions of interest to host a postponed AC31 and PC25?

Pat Awori

  • Thank you, David, for your presentation, clear and concise. What platform do you think will work for the online meeting and how much leeway time will you give to practice before the scheduled Animals and Plants committee meeting?? Is it possible for the Standing Committee as well?
  • If you plan to have SC take place….how will you find a venue that takes into consideration social distancing that we are advised will be a reality for a year or more??

Lois Lelanchon

  • As announced, the OIE is working on risk-based guidelines or standards on wildlife trade to reduce spill overs. It is important to note that the standards/guidelines aren’t legally binding in a lot of countries. In the framework of the OIE/CITES MoU, could we expect these risk-based standards to be built into the Convention to ensure its legally binding?

Basundhara Dutta

  • Regarding international trade, wildlife is often transported over large distances crammed together (stressed and immunosuppressed, excreting pathogens they may have in them). Conditions like this can often excrete zoonotic diseases. Are there any frameworks or regulations framed towards zoonotic diseases or in development tailored to zoonotic diseases in times of COVID-19?

Tomasso Demozzi

  • I would like to thank the speakers for their excellent and clear presentations, my question is for Ms. Higuero: How will COVID-19 affect the work of CITES in regard to the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework?

Lisa Kadel

  • If Committee meetings were held virtually, what would the format likely be and how are you planning to ensure participation from Parties with more limited internet access and Observers? In the case of online Committee meetings, would in-session working groups be established to work on certain issues as they arise in Plenary?

Rosalind Reeve

  • I’m alarmed by your statement concerning the impact of restrictions on international trade, especially in light of the deaths caused by Covid-19. CITES is not about promoting trade, but rather is about ensuring that trade does not threaten species. Would you consider revising your statement?

Sonia Pena, IUCN

  • Can you comment on the issue of international trade in wildlife which is legal vs. illegal wildlife trade and the role that CITES plays in clarifying this distinction and measures to regulate international trade?
  • IUCN has been holding online discussions of the motions put forward for the World Conservation Congress (now rescheduled for January 2021) and we would be happy to share our experience and lessons learned.

Makis Rodotheatus

  • Good morning from Athens, GRC. Do you think that civil society participation will see a rise in the future if more web-meetings are to substitute live meetings? And what is your sense on the effects of web-meetings on the so called “corridor diplomacy”?

Daniel Kachelriess

  • As David mentioned, online meetings may make it easier and definitely cheaper for Parties and stakeholders to participate. If this were to lead to a surge of participation in AC/PC, would there be a limit of how many stakeholders could participate?

Mark Jones Jones

  • Will online sessions allow for virtual ‘side-events’?

DJ Schubert

  • If virtual meetings are to occur, it will be important for party and observer participants to be able to communicate. This would only be possible if emails addresses for all participants can be shared with meeting registrants. Would this be possible?

Jacques Carbonneaux

  • Will a translation system be set up?

Rima Jabado

  • How do you deal with translations if meetings were virtual?


I. Higuero

  • Secretariat is neutral, we follow decisions of the Parties
  • No meeting since the start of the pandemic, so don’t know the opinion of Parties
  • Domestic trade or regulations is not regulated by CITES
  • As SG I can ask for evidence-based regulations and decision-making – could drive the trade on the legal side
  • Regulations should be put in place, domestic sanitary regulations should be followed
  • Land use is the bigger threat to habitats and increase the possibility of zoonotic diseases
  • Wait, let’s see what the Parties decide at the Standing Committee on sale of wildlife for human consumption

D. Morgan

  • Participants must be able to participate – internet access problems for some countries
  • Observers have easier participation, since they do not have to travel to Geneva

I. Higuero

  • Later this year – hybrid meeting: participants based in Geneva join face-to-face, while other participants join online
  • Post-2020 global biodiversity framework work is continuing
  • Framework to be adopted by CBD COP next year
  • Meetings scheduled this year for negotiations on the matter have been postponed
  • Global Biodiversity Framework will be there and will be adopted
  • Animals and Plants Committee Meetings – change from a face-to-face meeting – limited amount of time to have the session (3h sessions)
  • Some things will have to be restricted, comments will need to be made in advance
  • Less possibility of comments during the meetings, but no plans for reducing number of observers
  • Rules of Procedure will apply as they apply for every meeting
  • High participation of stakeholders – keep it even though the modalities change
  • Wahat the Parties want is sustainable and traceable trade in wildlife species
  • Implement regulations of CITES so not to affect sustainability of species
  • Illegal trade continues, with profits going often to criminal organizations
  • Regulation to treat wildlife trafficking as other trafficking crimes, so that those who are involved can be punished accordingly
  • International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime to ensure that decisions of the Parties are taken into account in national and regional regulations

D. Morgan

  • Not being too ambitious at the start of our online meetings
  • Not pressed for decision making
  • Surge in participation is good

I. Higuero

  • COVID-19 is on the minds of authorities
  • Some discussions will be coming up in various for a
  • Integrate some of those things in decision-making in CITES

D. Morgan

  • CITES not self-executing – Parties need to implement it in national law
  • Virtual side event will be great, but we are not quite there yet
  • From the Secretariat perspective – we will be as ambitious as we can, starting from getting the job done
  • Working languages are English, French, and Spanish – translation will be provided and is necessary for the meeting to be held

I. Higuero

  • Working with national authorities, need to be integrated in national legislation
  • CITES is dealing with illegal trade extensively – working with national authorities, working at regional level in intelligence cooperation

Closing remarks

I. Higuero

  • Everything is working wonderfully, work is continuing
  • The UN is working very hard during this moment
  • Serve the Parties and the stakeholders
  • No delays on the work or on the mandate



The event was live on Facebook.