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Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)

Increasing trade protections for high-value, threatened, and endangered tree species in international law

Protecting important species at risk

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international trade treaty to protect endangered plants and animals adopted in 1975. To date, 181 countries have ratified and are bound by the treaty to ensure that trade is not detrimental to the survival of wild populations of plants and animals.

About 600 commercially traded tree species are listed under the Convention to date, under a series of three rankings, or Appendices, based on the extent of the threat to each species population and the controls and restrictions that apply to the trade.

Appendix I Lists plants and animals that are threatened with extinction. Commercial trade in wild-caught specimens of these species is illegal (permitted only in exceptional licensed circumstances)
Appendix II Lists species not necessarily threatened with extinction yet, but which may become so unless strict regulations are put in place to prevent their over-exploitation. Trade is often subject to quota and requires an export permit or re-export certificate. The legality and sustainability of the trade must be proven.
Appendix III Lists species after one member country has asked other CITES Parties for assistance in controlling trade in that species. The species are not necessarily threatened with extinction globally. In all member countries, trade in these species is only permitted with an appropriate export permit and a certificate of origin from the government of the member country who has listed the species. The legality of the trade must be proven.

An answer to unsustainable demand

One of the most threatened groups of commercially traded tree species globally is rosewood. Rosewood species, such as Dalbergia spp., Pterocarpus spp. or Pericopsis elata, are found across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The increased demand for this extremely high-value timber, particularly in China, and the consequent unsustainable and illegal logging, pose a serious risk to the survival of rosewood species globally and to the forests in which it grows. China is today by far the single largest consumer of high value and endangered rosewood species, most of which is used for antique style furniture with the prized wood, which is referred to as hongmu or “red wood.” Chinese customs data shows that in 2014, China imported hongmu logs valued at over US$2 billion, almost double than the year before, and more than ten times their value before 2010.

CITES Challenges and Opportunities

CITES provides an important lever to protect tree species that are in high demand, as well as to track trade in CITES-listed species by generating key information and documentation. It also provides a valuable opportunity for collaboration among authorities of both tree population range states and countries where the timber is ultimately sold, to make the trade in precious woods transparent and sustainable.

In practice however, there are a number of weaknesses in implementation and enforcement of CITES, mainly related to the lack of oversight, and often the lack of political will, to tackle the billion-dollar trade in high-value timber species.


  • Actively support and promote the listing of threatened tree species on CITES, and work to ensure that existing tree listings are strengthened and fully enforced.
  • Through undercover field investigations, document illegal trade in threatened species, such as rosewood.
  • Through direct engagement with governments and participation in CITES meetings, bring crucial scientific and legal evidence to bear to influence important decisions about the protection of vulnerable species. Past EIA materials for CITES meetings have covered illegal logging crises in Madagascar, Belize, and the Congo Basin.