Only one species protected by CITES has become extinct in the wild as a result of trade since the Convention entered into force in 1975 (but see case studies in and Stiles 2004 for more nuanced discussions of the role CITES has played in the fate of particular species).
The text of the Convention was concluded at a meeting of representatives of 80 countries in Washington, D.C., United States, on 3 March 1973. It was then open for signature until 31 December 1974. It entered into force after the 10th ratification by a signatory country, on 1 July 1975. Countries that signed the Convention become Parties by ratifying, accepting or approving it. By the end of 2003, all signatory countries had become Parties. Countries that were not signatories may become Parties by acceding to the Convention. As of 17 June 2008, 173 Countries had become Parties to the Convention.
Funding for the activities of the Secretariat and COP meetings comes from a Trust Fund derived from Party contributions. Trust Fund money is not available to Parties to improve implementation or compliance. These activities, and all those outside Secretariat activities (training, species specific programs such as Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants - MIKE) must find external funding (often from NGOs and bilateral aid) Although the Convention itself does not provide for arbitration or dispute in the case of noncompliance, 30 years of CITES in practice has resulted in several strategies to deal with infractions by Parties. The Secretariat, when informed of an infraction by a Party, will notify all other parties. The Secretariat will give the Party time to respond to the allegations and may provide technical assistance to prevent further infractions. Other actions (not provided for in the Convention itself, but derived from subsequent COP 11 resolutions) which may be taken against the offending Party include: mandatory confirmation of all permits by the Secretariat; suspension of cooperation from the Secretariat; a formal warning; a visit by the Secretariat to verify capacity; recommendations to all Parties to suspend CITES related trade with offending party (see ); the dictation of corrective measures to be taken by offending Party before Secretariat will resume cooperation/recommend resumption of trade. Bilateral sanctions have been imposed on the basis of national legislation (e.g. the USA used certification under the Pelly Amendment to get Japan to revoke its reservation to hawksbill turtle products in 1991, thus reducing the volume of its exports).
Infractions may include negligence with respect to permit issuing, excessive trade, lax enforcement, and failing to produce annual reports (the most common)
Each Party to the Convention must designate one or more Management Authorities in charge of administering the licensing system and one or more Scientific Authorities to make judgements about the effects of trade on the status of the species. Species are proposed for listing at Conferences of the Parties (COPs), the next of which will be held in Qatar in 2009. Species may be proposed for listing by Parties other than range States and may be listed despite objections by range state nations if there is sufficient (2/3 majority) support for the listing. These discussions are usually among the most contentious at COP meetings.
Roughly 5,000 species of animals and 28,000 species of plants are protected by CITES against over-exploitation through international trade. The endangered species are grouped in the Appendices according to how threatened they are by international trade and the measures that apply to their trade. Species may be split-listed meaning that some populations of a species are on one Appendix, while some are on another. Some people argue that this is risky as specimens from a more protected population could be ‘laundered’ through the borders of a Party whose population is not as strictly protected. The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is currently split-listed, with all populations except those of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe listed in Appendix I. Those of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are listed in Appendix II. Listing the species over the whole of its range would prevent such ‘laundering’ but also restricts trade in wildlife products by range states with good management practices.
There has been increasing willingness within the Parties to allow for trade in products from well-managed populations. In particular, sales of the South African white rhino have been able to generate revenues which were later applied to conservation. While listing the species on Appendix I not only increased the price of rhino horn (which fueled more poaching) in South Africa, where there was adequate on-the-ground protection, the species survived. The survival of the white rhino is attributed more to increased levels of field protection than exclusively to CITES listing, but it is likely that field protection might not have increased without CITES protection.
Examples of species listed on Appendix II are the American black bear (Ursus americanus), Hartmann's mountain zebra (Equus hartmannae), African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), green iguana (Iguana iguana), bigleaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) and Lignum Vitae "ironwood" (Guaiacum officinale).
Examples of species listed on Appendix III and the countries that listed them are the two-toed sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) by Costa Rica, African civet (Civettictis civetta) by Botswana, and the alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) by the USA.
By design, CITES regulates and monitors trade in the manner of a "negative list" such that trade in all species is permitted and unregulated unless the species in question appears on the Appendices or looks very much like one of those taxa ... then and only then, trade is regulated or constrained. Because the remit of the Convention covers millions of species of plants and animals, and tens of thousands of these taxa are potentially of economic value, in practice this negative list approach effectively forces CITES signatories to expend limited resources on just a select few, leaving many species to be traded with neither constraint nor review. For example, recently several bird species which are classified as threatened with extinction appeared in the legal wild bird trade because their status had never been considered by the CITES process. If a "positive list" approach were taken, only species which have been evaluated and approved for the positive list would be permitted in trade, thus lightening the review burden for both member states and the Secretariat, and also preventing poorly known species from being inadvertently threatened by legal trade.
Whilst many developing countries have been eager to join CITES, the annual costs of staffing and maintaining a CITES office and an effective presence at the biennial CoP gatherings remain unaffordable for many signatory nations. In practice, these offices and staff are nearly always the same as those which license, permit, and collect fees for the hunting, trade, and protection of wild plants and animals. Because these fees collected from wildlife traders often represent a significant source of these CITES offices operational budgets, the structure of CITES creates a direct conflict of interest between these offices and the resources they are tasked with managing. Moreover, the CITES Secretariat itself is largely dependent on signatories' offices for determinations on whether the trade in a given species is "non-detrimental." Consequently, this structure for information gathering and decision making at both the national and Secretariat level is inherently biased in favor of trade over protection.
Specific weaknesses in the text include: it does not stipulate guidelines for the 'non-detriment' finding required of national Scientific Authorities; non-detriment findings require copious amounts of information; the 'household effects' clause is often not rigid enough/specific enough to prevent CITES violations by means of this Article (VII); non-reporting from Parties means Secretariat monitoring is incomplete; and it has no capacity to address domestic trade in listed species.
Suggestions for improvement in the operation of CITES include: more regular missions by the Secretariat (not reserved just for high profile species); improvement of national legislation and enforcement; better reporting by Parties (and the consolidation of information from all sources-NGOs, TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network and Parties); more emphasis on enforcement-including a technical committee enforcement officer; the development of CITES Action Plans (akin to Biodiversity Action Plans related to the Convention on Biological Diversity) including: designation of Scientific/Management Authorities and national enforcement strategies; incentives for reporting and timelines for both Action Plans and reporting. CITES would benefit from access to GEF funds-although this is difficult given the GEFs more ecosystem approach-or other more regular funds. Development of a funding mechanism similar to that of the Montreal Protocol (developed nations contribute to a fund for developing nations) could allow more funds for non-Secretariat activities.
On July 15, 2008, the Committee that oversees the administration of the convention between meetings of all the Parties granted China and Japan permission to import elephant ivory from four African government stockpiles, the ivory being sold at a single auction in each country. The amounts to be sold comprise approximately 44 tons from Botswana, 9 tons from Namibia, 51 tons from South Africa, and 4 tons from Zimbabwe. The Chinese government in 2003 acknowledged that it had lost track of 121 tons of ivory between 1991 and 2002.