by Ivonne Higuero, CITES Secretary General
As efforts continue to develop new guidance on making Non-detrimental findings (NDFs), and with an increasing number of participant Parties and experts involved, most of them dedicating their time voluntarily, I cannot help but reflect on the decades of dedication that CITES, its Parties, and other stakeholders have poured into NDFs. You might wonder, what exactly is an NDF, and why are CITES and its Parties so keen on it? Read on and I am sure you will gain a better awareness of CITES’ emphasis on sustainability when it comes to the wildlife trade.
Let’s explore what a NDF is. We all know that CITES aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of species in the wild. Appendices I, II and III to the Convention are lists of species afforded different levels or types of protection from over-exploitation. Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered among CITES-listed animals and plants. They are threatened with extinction and CITES prohibits international trade in specimens of these species except when the purpose of the import is not commercial. Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.
To achieve the goal of CITES, permits for the export or the introduction of species listed in Appendices I and II are granted only when a Scientific Authority of the exporting State has advised that such export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species. In addition, similar permits are also required for the import of species listed in Appendix I of the CITES Convention. This determination is known as a ‘Non-detriment Finding’ or NDF, in accordance with Articles III and IV of the convention.
As you can imagine, creating NDFs is a collaborative undertaking based on scientific assessments. I am pleased to inform you that CITES, its Parties, other stakeholders and experts are highly aware of their relevance and of providing guidance on making NDFs. During this process, Scientific Authorities ensure that recommendations are grounded in comprehensive scientific reviews, covering aspects such as the species’ population status, distribution, trends, harvesting practices, relevant biological and ecological factors, as well as trade information pertaining to the species in question, as outlined in CITES Resolution 10.3 on the Designation and role of the Scientific Authorities.
With so many aspects to be considered when making NDFs, access to essential information is imperative in order to ensure the delivery of solid and trustworthy NDFs. Regarding this, CITES, its Parties, and the experts involved have reached a consensus that the following resources should be considered: relevant scientific literature; details of any ecological risk assessments conducted; scientific surveys conducted at harvest locations and at sites protected from harvest and other impacts; relevant knowledge and expertise of local and indigenous communities; consultations with relevant local, regional and international experts; and national and international trade information.
I also want to emphasize the importance of NDF guidance. NDF guidance is a broader and more abstract term, providing models, methods, or recommendations regarding the creation of NDFs. While enthusiastically working on the creation and improvement of NDFs and NDF guidance, simultaneous endeavors are also being made to improve their implementation and to build capacity.
During CoP14, an initiative presented by Mexico led to a call for an international expert workshop on NDFs aimed at strengthening the capacities of CITES Scientific Authorities, especially concerning methodologies, tools, information, expertise, and other necessary resources for NDF formulation.
The resulting International Expert Workshop on CITES Non-Detriment Findings took place in Cancún, Mexico, from November 17 to 22, 2008, with 103 participants from 33 countries spanning all six CITES regions.
Following the workshop, multiple guidance materials were developed by CITES Parties, stakeholders and experts. The Secretariat provides a dedicated database in which NDF materials can be shared, accessed, and searched. Overall, 200 NDF materials are on the CITES website. Thirty-one are NDF guidance, 67 are NDFs, and an additional 63 are case studies. They not only serve as valuable guidance and references for creating NDFs but also provide a rich resource for anyone who wishes to gain insights into scientific information on different species and related knowledge.
While foundational work has been undertaken, and significant achievements have been obtained, there are still issues related to NDF creation and implementation that need our attention, considering CITES’ oversight of over 40,000 species. For instance, some of the materials available now have limited language accessibility, focus on single species, and are not user-friendly. Additionally, some major taxa are less represented in these materials, with birds, for instance, being heavily traded but having only one NDF and one guidance available. This limitation restricts the support available to Parties to develop robust and reliable NDFs.
The good news is that in December 2023, we are organizing a second international workshop to further discuss and improve CITES guidance. It will take place in Nairobi, Kenya, and will be attended by 150 participants from all over the globe. This workshop will contribute to new or improved draft NDF guidance that addresses gaps and weaknesses in the NDF guidance currently available to CITES Parties, considering many factors. These include guidance for integration of local and traditional knowledge in NDFs to complement scientific information, and approaches to assess the role of species in their ecosystems in accordance with relevant provisions of the Convention.
The most important of all gaps to be addressed in current updates of CITES NDF guidance, however, is that CITES NDFs need not always be complex and challenging – and CITES NDF guidance should reflect that fact and provide guidance that can be used in situations of low risk, low capacity, and limited information availability. In many or most cases, international trade in CITES listed species will not be a risk to their survival in the wild. Where such cases are clear, NDFs should be straightforward, as to enable trade that will in return also provide economic incentives to range States and local communities to invest in the sustainability of species populations. Stopping trade should always be a matter of last resort, as it could undermine conservation efforts and livelihood benefits of sustainable species management.
Considering these exciting activities that we collectively organize under the CITES NDF project, we encourage Parties, stakeholders and experts to continue to create new NDFs, refine existing NDF guidance, and provide support to Parties for making them. Translating existing NDF guidance from English into French and Spanish is also important. Additionally, we envision a series of online capacity building workshops for Parties from specific CITES regions as well as seeking funding to test the guidance in many countries.
We have become increasingly confident because the Secretariat, its Parties, stakeholder organizations, and the dedicated experts who voluntarily contribute to the development of NDFs have been collaborating harmoniously and diligently towards the same goal. I want to express my gratitude to all of those who have given their precious time so generously and to Germany, the European Union, Switzerland, the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and other Parties that have provided generous financial support.
Your wholehearted engagement plays a significant role in ensuring the sustainability of international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants. Last but not least, we call for and welcome increased collaboration and support in scientific research, data sharing, and funding to support the survival of these species of animals and plants in the wild.