National laws for implementing the Convention


National law for implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) empowers government officials to act, places limits on human actions and articulates policy in relation to the regulation of international wildlife trade. 

Although international agreements like CITES are legally binding on States that adhere to them, they are generally not self-executing. This means that they cannot be fully implemented until specific domestic measures have been adopted for that purpose. It is therefore absolutely essential that CITES Parties have legislation in place which allows them to implement all aspects of the Convention.

Only through adequate legislation which is permanently up to date and efficiently enforced, both at the borders and within countries, can CITES really work. Adequate national legislation is key to effective wildlife trade controls by the State agencies charged with implementing the Convention. It is also a vital prerequisite for ensuring that a State Party complies with the provisions of the Convention. 

Creating and adopting effective and enforceable legislation is not an easy task and the Convention provides some guidance to Parties on what to include in their implementing legislation:

  • Articles III to VII of the Convention set forth the conditions for trade in specimens of CITES-listed species; 

  • Article IX requires that Parties designate a Management Authority and a Scientific Authority; and 

  • Article VIII requires that Parties prohibit trade in specimens in violation of the Convention, penalize such trade and allow for the confiscation of specimens illegally traded or possessed. 

Mandate and requirements

Resolution Conf. 8.4 (Rev. CoP15) on National laws for implementation of the Convention initially adopted by the Conference of the Parties in 1992, provides the basis for the CITES National Legislation Project (NLP), the Convention’s primary mechanism for encouraging and assisting Parties’ legislative efforts, which was initiated the same year. 

The Resolution directs the Secretariat, within available resources, to identify those Parties whose domestic measures do not provide them with the authority to:

i) designate at least one Management Authority and one Scientific Authority;

ii) prohibit trade in specimens in violation of the Convention;

iii) penalize such trade; or

iv) confiscate specimens illegally traded or possessed;

Legislative status chart

Under the NLP, and in consultation with the concerned Party, national legislation is analysed by the Secretariat in relation to these four minimum requirements and placed in one of three categories, as follows: 

Category 1: legislation that is believed generally to meet the requirements for implementation of CITES

Category 2: legislation that is believed generally not to meet all of the requirements for the implementation of CITES

Category 3: legislation that is believed generally not to meet the requirements for the implementation of CITES.

A legislative status table, prepared and periodically revised by the Secretariat, provides a summary of Parties’ legislative progress including the category in which their legislation has been placed, whether they have been identified by the Standing Committee as requiring attention as a priority and the length of time they have been a Party to the Convention.

The following legislative status chart provides the latest information compiled by the Secretariat and presented to the 67th meeting of the Standing Committee (Johannesburg, September 2016). 

The latest version of the legislative status table was produced in September 2016 (CoP17 Doc. 22, Annex 3 (Rev. 1) and can be found here. The table contains the following sections:

  • Parties with legislation in Category 1
  • Parties with legislation in Category 2 or 3
  • Recently acceded Parties 
  • Dependent territories

The Standing Committee has identified certain Parties requiring attention as a priority; these are indicated in bold in the table. 

CITES and UNEP targeted support to Parties

Pursuant to CITES resolutions and decisions and following the call from the UN Secretary General to strengthen the UN System response to tackling illegal trade in wild fauna and flora, UNEP and the CITES Secretariat have developed a collaborative initiative to provide assistance to priority countries and territories, upon their request, to enhance their legislation. 

This includes the provision of targeted legal advice on the four basic legislative requirements listed above, compilation of examples of best legislation, drafting support and close cooperation with UNODC and UNDP on the implementation of the relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, the strengthening of the rule of law and the fight against corruption. 

In the context of this project, CITES and UNEP organized a joint legislative workshop in Nairobi in April 2016.

The Secretariat and UNEP prepared a joint report of the workshop which is available here.

A second workshop will take place on 13-14 February 2017 in Abidjan.

Legislative support and guidance materials

It is the prerogative of each Party to decide how it incorporates CITES obligations into national legislation, taking into account its needs and legal practice.

The provisions of the Convention and Resolution Conf. 8.4 (Rev. CoP15) only provide a broad framework, which must be elaborated in national legislation. There are many matters of detail that need to be settled at national level, either in enabling and/or in secondary legislation.

To assist Parties with their legislative planning and drafting process, the CITES Secretariat provides expert legislative assistance and advice.

Available legislative guidance materials (in various languages) include a draft model law, legislative checklists, questionnaire for legal drafters, format for legislative analysis, sample CITES legislation plan and standard training presentations:

Draft model law

As its name suggests, the Model Law is only a template. 

It is the prerogative of each Party to decide how it incorporates CITES obligations into national legislation, taking into account its needs and legal practice. In very broad terms, the National Legislation Project has identified three main options:

a) amend existing provisions in various legislative texts related to wildlife, natural resources, Customs, import/export and environment;

b) include a CITES chapter or CITES provisions in comprehensive wildlife, biodiversity or environment legislation; or

c) enact CITES-specific legislation.

All of these options involve one or more legally-binding and enforceable instruments – Constitution, parliamentary laws and subsidiary legislation in the form of implementing regulations, decrees, orders, norms or codes – through which governments comply with the requirements of the Convention.

The form of national legislation and the terminology used will vary according to legal traditions, administrative and governmental structures and other factors. Nevertheless, as far as possible, efforts have been made to propose model provisions that can be incorporated into national legislation with minimal adjustment.

The model law on international trade in wild fauna and flora prepared has been prepared by the CITES Secretariat. 

The draft models are also available in Arabic, French, Russian and Spanish based on an earlier version in English.

Legislative checklist (CoP14 version)

A working checklist of provisions that must, should or could be included in a law or act to implement CITES include provisions that are required under the text of the Convention, along with provisions that the Conference of the Parties has recommended through the adoption of resolutions. The checklist has been derived from the Resolutions of the Conference of the Parties and the IUCN Guidelines for Legislation to Implement CITES. 

Questionnaire for legal drafters

This questionnaire enables the Parties to carry out a preliminary assessment of their own national legislation regarding the implementation of the Convention. The answers provide the CITES Secretariat with an overview of the legal system in each country in order to achieve the National Legislation Project. 

Format for legislative analysis

The Legislative Analysis Format is a tool allowing a thorough understanding of how CITES is incorporated into the National legal system in terms of legal texts, authorities involved, prohibition of illegal trade, penalties and so on.

Sample CITES Legislation Plan

The Sample CITES Legislative Plan focuses on the scope and content to be included into the legislation.

It also informs on the different steps and actions to be taken by the Parties to implement the Convention.

Standard training presentations

Documents related to national legislation