Trade is one activity that can lead to negative impacts on species, especially on endangered species. A number of such species have experienced serious decline in populations due to demand either for the specimens themselves, or for parts or derivatives therefrom.
Trade-related impacts on species are addressed on an international basis by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Known as CITES, this Convention aims at ensuring that international trade does not threaten wild plant and animal species. It does this by subjecting trade to controls on import, export and re-export of species by applying compliance controls and certifications. Differences apply whether goods are being moved within the European Union, where there is freedom of trade and hence lesser controls, or whether there is trade to or from outside the European Union.
The vulnerability of the species concerned, and the demand levels for the said species all contribute to different classifications and levels of protection by CITES and ensuing legislation. There are three different Appendices in the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and four Annexes in the European Union’s Regulation on the Protection of Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by Regulating Trade Therein (EU Regulation), and different species are listed in the said Appendices and Annexes depending on the extent of how threatened the species are and the extent of trade activities targeting them. These legal documents are transposed into Maltese law (SL 549.38).
Many people are quite mistaken in thinking that CITES only concerns exotic animals such as tigers or bears, or parts from such animals like elephant tusks and rhino horns, and that members of the general public are not really affected by its implications. In reality, many commonplace goods and transactions involve CITES species or derivatives. Many species of pets, such as tortoises and parrots, are CITES-listed, and so are many birds of prey. Food delicacies such as caviar (eggs of sturgeon), certain high quality timber used in furniture or musical instruments, such as rosewoods and certain mahoganies, the leather derived from certain animal species such as that of alligators, many cacti species, and various plant extracts used in the manufacture of cosmetics, health supplements and diet pills, are CITES-listed and require compliance checks and pre-authorizations especially when imported from outside of the EU. Sale of Annex A species within the European Union, including therefore within Malta itself, also requires certification. Maltese law stipulates that the owners of CITES-listed species must always keep the relevant CITES documentation available. Hence anybody acquiring such specimens from third parties are obliged by law to be in possession of these documents. Failure to do so may result in the specimen being seized and action taken against the owner.