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Global Wildlife Conference Provides Hope for Disappearing Trees and Stronger Controls Against Illegal Timber Trade

Geneva – Amid weeks marked by devastating fires throughout many of the world’s forests, consensus emerged at the global wildlife conference in Geneva on the need to protect trees threatened by international trade. At the 18th meeting (CoP18) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), representatives from 183 countries agreed to grant protection to threatened Latin American and African tree species, thus countering the ongoing and enormous risk posed by global timber trafficking networks.

Specifically, the rosewood tree known as mukula (Pterocarpus tinctorius) found in the Central and South African region, the critically endangered Mulanje cedar from Malawi (Widdringtonia whytei), and the widely traded Spanish cedar genus (Cedrela spp.) received a higher degree of global protection. EIA has documented the pervasive illegal logging and trade in mukula in its recent investigation report “Scheduled Extinction.” Likewise, rosewoods and ebonies in Madagascar (Dalbergia spp. and Diospyros spp.) garnered attention as decisions were made to increase controls over the country's vast stockpiles and also to ensure global enforcement of an existing ban on export and trade in Malagasy precious timbers.

The decisions are indicative of mounting global concern regarding the world’s diminishing trees and forests. Since the groundbreaking listing of bigleaf mahohany (Swietenia macrophylla) on Appendix II in 2003, and as rosewood trafficking networks expanded into some of the most pristine ecosystems to extract extremely rare and valuable trees, the Parties to the Convention have increasingly focused on endangered tree species. Rosewood has become the most illegally traded wildlife product in the world in both value and volume, representing more than seized products from elephants, big cats, rhinoceros, pangolins, parrots and turtles combined.

EIA Deputy Director of Forests Susanne Breitkopf said: “CoP18 was an overall success for trees and a crucial step to save these species from extinction. But we know from experience that traffickers will work to circumvent the rules through falsifying permits, mis-declaring species, and bribing or threatening government officials. For the decisions made in Geneva to be a true victory for the planet, they must be enforced throughout the supply chain – not only in African and South American source countries, but also in consuming countries, and principally China, the epicenter of world rosewood consumption. Only then can the world’s forests be protected not just on paper but in practice.”

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