CITES: a convention for species and wildlife trade

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international agreement which allows legal regulation of endangered animal and vegetal species in every state that signed it. Let’s see the origins of the CITES, who takes part of it, who finances it, what is its aim, and which are the species concerned.

The origins of the CITES convention

Although nowadays the need of protecting the fauna and flora from their over-exploitation is a well-known issue, this was not the case during the 60s. While technological progress and trade exchange have augmented significantly, new threats for our planet’s biodiversity have appeared. This is the case of uncontrolled or illegal trade of various wild species. Due to these problems, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) spread their concerns and proposed the international community to create a restrictive legal instrument in order to regulate this branch of international trade.

Therefore, the CITES, also known as the Convention of Washington, was signed the 3rd of March 1973 by 21 countries, including France. After its ratification by 10 States, the convention came into force the 1st of July 1975. Currently more than 183 countries are part of the Convention.

Structure of the CITES

The signatory countries comprise ‘the Conference of the Parties’: a body in charge of making decisions, adopting amendments or even proposing recommendations. For instance, it decides the possibility of adding an animal species to one of the three appendices of the Convention and benefit from the field of protection from the agreement.

It is also composed by:

  • A specialized committee in animal species,

  • A specialized committee in plant species,

  • A Secretariat, that collaborates with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and guarantees coordination and good communication between the countries and the committees. The specialized committees’ aim is to express their opinion about submitted questions and to ensure periodic regular classification.

Who finances CITES?

CITES is mainly funded by the member states in the form of contributions allocated towards special CITES Trust Funds. Contributions are estimated in base of the ones payed to the UNO, with a readjusted rate as not all member states of the UNO are members of the CITES. The readjusted rate of each country is available in the Appendix 4 of the resolutions of the Conf. 16.2.

CITES has other primary sources of funding: companies, international organizations or other donors can subsidize their projects. For instance, the Conference of the Parties has started a successful cooperation with the International Whaling Commission in order to look out for the application of the legislation and to finance the reintroduction of certain specimens in their natural habitat.

What is the purpose of CITES?

CITES controls the international trade of animals and plants that are included in the convention appendices by issuing an import or export permit. This authorization is restrained to more or less strict conditions depending on the appendix in which the species is included.

. Appendix I includes the most threatened animals and plants, whose trade is not authorized unless it is for non-commercial reasons, for instance scientific research. Nonetheless, a permit is needed.

. Appendix II includes endangered species whose over-exploitation and deregulated trade could greatly affect their survival. An authorization is needed for their trade.

. Appendix III includes species that a member state of the CITES, on its own, has asked to regulate its trade in order to protect them. An authorization is needed for their trade.

This permit is issued by a management body, who must be designated in every signatory country. This body is helped by at least one scientific authority, who is in charge of studying the trade impact in the fauna and flora.

Within this context, different criteria are considered for a permit issuance:

  • The specimen must have been obtained legally,

  • Its trade must not threaten the species survival,

  • Animals and plants must be transported in a way that injuries, diseases or ruthless treatment are avoided.

  • For species included in the appendix I, the specimen must not be used with commercial purposes.

(Source: official site of the CITES)

Which are the species covered by the CITES?

CITES species (source: CITES site from MEDD, 2006)

Appendix I

Appendix II

Appendix III



228 species
21 subspecies
13 populations

369 species
34 subspecies
14 populations

57 species
11 subspecies

>654 species
66 subspecies
27 populations


146 species
19 subspecies
2 populations

1 401 species
8 subspecies
1 populations

149 species

>1 696 species
27 subspecies
3 populations


67 species
3 subspecies
4 populations

508 species
3 subspecies
4 populations

25 species

>600 species
6 subspecies
8 populations


16 species

90 species

106 species


9 species

68 species

77 species


63 species
5 subspecies

2 030 species
1 subspecies

16 species

2 109 species
6 subspecies


529 species
48 subspecies
19 populations

4 466 species
46 subspecies
19 populations

247 species
11 subspecies

5 242 species
105 subspecies
38 populations


298 species
4 subspecies

28 074 species
3 subspecies
6 populations

45 species
1 subspecies
2 populations

28 417 species
8 subspecies
8 populations


827 species
52 subspecies
19 populations

32 540 species
49 subspecies
25 populations

291 species
12 subspecies
2 populations

33 658 species
113 subspecies
46 populations

Is the CITES really respected and apply?

The CITES is the first real legal pillar that fights against illegal trade of the fauna and flora. Confiscations have multiplied in the years after the convention entered into force, regardless of the geographical situation or the countries’ poverty index (France, Germany, Brazil, Thailand…). This shows that the black market concerning protected species is a common problem to all countries and to every human being.

Besides, resolutions approved in the context of the CITES find their application concrete and efficient thanks to European regulations. According to the article 288 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), these resolutions must be subject to a literal transposition by the European states. The application of European directives, on the contrary, may be subject to some amendments. Hence, the EU plays a decisive role regarding the respect of the Washington convention.