Financial Innovation in the Wild

The international trade in endangered species is a multibillion-dollar business, ranging from timber to exotic pets to luxury leather products. But the permitting system is technologically outdated and susceptible to abuse from fraud and corruption.

PARIS – This month, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) celebrates the start of its fifth decade. It is the oldest international environmental agreement and one of the few with real teeth, because it can impose trade sanctions for non-compliance – and because virtually all countries have joined.

The mission of CITES is to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking and illicit trade in endangered and protected species. Commercial trade in species that are threatened with extinction – including elephants, rhinos, and tigers – as well as derivative products, such as tusks, horns, and powders, is completely prohibited. Commercial trade in species that are not yet threatened with extinction but are still protected by CITES – for example, pythons – is subject to a permit.

In total, CITES extends protection to roughly 5,600 animal and 30,000 plant species. Yet many protected species are nonetheless facing severe threats, owing to habitat loss, illicit trafficking, and unsustainable harvesting.

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