HC Deb 08 July 1997 vol 297 cc449-51W
Mr. Ennis

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions if he will make a statement on the outcome of the conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which took place in Harare from 9 to 20 June. [7710]

Mr. Meacher

A record number of 125 member countries attended the conference, the majority of whom favoured greater liberalisation of controls in favour of sustainable use in line with the agreements reached at the Earth summit in 1992 and since confirmed at the UN General Assembly Special Session last week.

Three southern African countries, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe, secured approval to transfer their elephant populations from Appendix I to Appendix II with the intention of allowing a limited resumption of trade in ivory stockpiles, live animals, and hunting trophies. During the Conference it became clear that a majority of countries supported an immediate resumption of trade in ivory. The United Kingdom and other EU Member States, working with African countries, were instrumental in deferring a final decision until stronger controls, verified by an independent panel of experts, are confirmed to be in place. In consequence, there will be no trade in ivory for at least 21 months. If trade in raw ivory does resume, the stockpiles will be exported to a single country, Japan, in a one-off experiment, subject to review. The UK abstained on the final vote in line with the European Union's Common Position.

After active interventions by the UK and other EU Member States, the Conference voted to maintain controls on a number of key species. Proposals from Japan and Norway to block the International Whaling Commission's primacy in matters concerning commercial whaling, whilst allowing trade to resume in several whale species, were rejected, as were South Africa's proposal for a limited trade in rhinoceros horn from their white rhino population, and a proposal from Cuba to resume trade in their stockpiles of hawksbill turtle shells.

With support from the EU the Conference adopted Germany's proposal to include all species of sturgeon on Appendix II, thereby ensuring that future trade in these species will be monitored and controlled. Agreement was reached on increased collaboration between CITES and the Food and Agriculture Organisation to gather data on shark landings, but the Conference rejected proposals from the USA, strongly supported by the UK, to establish a marine fish working group.

The Conference endorsed a major UK initiative to tackle the impact of traditional medicines on wild animals and plants. It agreed a resolution sponsored by the UK, Japan and Korea detailing actions to reduce over-exploitation of wild species for medicinal use though better communication with traditional medicine communities, the introduction of comprehensive legislation in consumer countries and range states, effective enforcement, and more research into substitutes for endangered species. The proposals were agreed by consensus following constructive discussions between the sponsor countries and China.

Proposals from Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru for a limited and controlled trade in sheared wool, cloth, and handicraft products from wild vicuna were adopted, but with a zero quota for the Bolivian population and other safeguards. The EU supported the proposals on the basis of the scientific evidence and after detailed discussions with the range states on their internal controls.

Finland withdrew from a proposal, which they had submitted jointly with Bulgaria and Jordan, to transfer all populations of the European Brown Bear from Appendix II to Appendix I. Most range states, including Russia, strongly opposed the proposal. In a series of votes, the Conference rejected the original proposal and subsequent amendments which would have confined its application to specific populations. In the absence of a common position, the UK and other EU Member States abstained on the first vote. Member States opposed the amended proposals which would have been impossible to enforce.

The UK and other EU Member States strongly supported a proposal from the USA and Bolivia to include Big Leaf Mahogany on Appendix II of the Convention. However, as in 1994, this was rejected by the Conference. Instead, a working group will examine ways of protecting this species from unsustainable logging.

In total, conference decisions will result in stricter controls on 17 species; one of these will transfer from Appendix III of the Convention to Appendix II, three from Appendix II to Appendix I, and thirteen will be added to the Convention for the first time. Less strict controls will apply to six species which will move from Appendix I to Appendix II. A further eleven species, which are presently on Appendix II but not in international trade, will be removed from the Convention altogether. Controls will also be removed from over a thousand artificially propagated hybrid plants widely sold through retail outlets.

With UK support, the Conference adopted an important initiative by tiger range states for stronger action to protect this critically endangered species. As the new Chair of the Convention's Standing Committee, we will ensure there are opportunities to discuss progress before the next Conference.

A proposal by the USA to establish a permanent Enforcement Working Group was rejected despite strong UK support, but Customs and Police members of the UK delegation organised an enforcement workshop during the Conference to discuss training, information exchange and co-operation between agencies. Several other countries took part, including the USA, Canada, South Africa, Mexico and a number of EU Member States.

The UK delegation also played an active role in discussions on other key issues, chairing a working group which produced an action plan to implement the findings of a report on the effectiveness of CITES, and a resolution calling for increased co-operation between CITES and other conventions, in particular, the Biodiversity Convention. The UK also brokered a compromise agreement on the Convention's budget over the next three years which will allow extra work to be done whilst limiting the overall increase in contributions to 5 per cent. An offer by the UK, strongly supported by the EU to host the next conference, was narrowly rejected in favour of Indonesia.

The United Kingdom was elected to Chair the Convention's Standing Committee which will be taking major decisions on behalf of all the Parties in the period before the next Conference in two and a half years.