The EU and China's State Forestry Administration are to sign an agreement today (18 July) to help combat the illegal trade of wildlife products, such as elephant and rhinoceros horns, the EU’s top environment official, Janez Potočnik, has told EurActiv.
Potočnik, the European commissioner for environment, and Zhang Jianlong, the deputy director of the State Forestry Administration, will sign the cooperation agreement in Beijing, forging closer ties against the trafficking of wildlife and agroforestry products through the exchange of information and enforcement.
The deal will also give the EU more of a grasp of China’s position ahead of yearly inter-governmental meetings on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
The governments will reaffirm their commitment to CITES, pledging to coordinate responses when trafficking is discovered, for example by tracking down products which are illegally traded from Africa to China via Europe, such as ivory horns.
Potočnik said: “As major markets for wildlife products, the EU and China have a responsibility to support the efforts of the international community to fight against wildlife trafficking."
“Trafficking is at its highest level for decades and involves international organised crime organisations. The global populations of, for example, elephant, rhinoceros and sharks are at risk from unsustainable or illegal trade.”
Potočnik also met Zhou Shengxian, China’s environmental protection minister, to discuss environmental issues, such as air and water pollution.
The market for elephant and rhinoceros horns is huge in China, where they are believed to hold medicinal properties as well as being used for decorative purposes. This is a major concern for conservationists, who fear the extinction of the species unless their illegal trade is curbed. China is the biggest consumer market for ivory in the world.
Colman O’Criodain, an international wildlife trade expert at the WWF, said in emailed comments: “Part of the reason why the scale of the illegal trade is such a problem is that most source and transit countries are making only paltry efforts to stop the trade so the burden falls on China. Nevertheless, since China is becoming increasingly wealthy (and, indeed, it is this increasing wealth that is driving rising demand), more needs to be done in that country.”
Illegal shark-finning, the practice of cutting off the dorsal fins of the marine predator for use in the Chinese delicacy shark fin soup, is also a major concern, with biologists warning of severe impacts on ocean biodiversity. China is the world’s largest market for shark fins.
O’Criodain said that shark populations are particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to their low fecundity and slow regeneration rate.
“These fins fetch high prices in China," he said. "Most fisheries are unregulated so fishermen have every opportunity to maximise their take, including by retaining only the fins and discarding the rest of the carcass.”
The European Commission hopes the EU-China agreement will be a major step in combating the illegal trade of species.
Environment spokesman Joe Hennon told EurActiv: “We would hope so. But it depends on how the talks go.”
The Commission sees China as an important partner on CITES, due to its increased dealings with African nations on the protection of resources and wildlife.
The deal will also allow the EU’s Council of Ministers to come up with a more robust negotiating position as it will avoid surprises on the day of the talks.
“Lobbying and deals are struck in the months leading up to CITES. It is difficult to influence the debate when you are only starting to negotiate on the day you arrive,” Hennon said.
Colman O’Criodain, an international wildlife trade expert at the WWF, said: "China is the biggest consumer market for ivory in the world. Some of the trade is legal, either from stockpiles that originated before the 1990 ban or from a one-off purchase of ivory stocks from Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa in 2008. However there is also a substantial illegal market. While confiscations and prosecutions are undertaken, and severe penalties imposed, the effort is not commensurate with the scale of the problem."