Illegal wildlife trafficking has recently become a more and more disturbing problem for the EU, as the international and especially Asiatic demand for wildlife commodities is increasing. The EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, adopted in 2016, should reduce the scale of the phenomenon, in order to protect wildlife.

Julian King, EU Commissioner for Security Union, describes the progress and the challenges of the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking, in an interview given for Europunkt to Vladimir Adrian Costea.

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Vladimir Adrian Costea: What is the current state of play in the EU in relation to wildlife trafficking?

Julian King: The fight against environmental crime, and in particular wildlife trafficking, is a clear priority for me as Commissioner for the Security Union. Wildlife trafficking is a global problem. While this is not new, its scale and nature have changed in recent years. It has become a transnational organised crime activity, leading to massive poaching of species like elephants (between 20 000 and 30 000 are killed illegally every year) or rhinos (more than 1000 killed every year).

Africa and Asia remain two important wildlife trafficking hotspots, with large flows of wildlife commodities trafficked between these two continents. But the EU is also affected by wildlife trafficking, as a market for illegal wildlife products (such as precious timber, birds and reptiles); as a hub for ivory, rhino horns, pangolins or sea horses transiting through EU airports from Africa to Asia; and as a region of origin, with species like the endangered European eel being exported illegally to Asia, for prices reaching 1000€/kg.

What measures have been taken at EU level, what progress has been made and what challenges lie ahead? What impact will the ‘EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking’ have?

In line with its global approach in support of biodiversity conservation and against organised crime, the EU adopted in 2016 an Action Plan against wildlife trafficking . The objective is to make sure that the issue is treated as a priority by EU and Member States’ decision-makers, in order that sufficient attention and resources are devoted to addressing it.

The Action Plan sets out an EU-wide strategy against wildlife trafficking. It contains 32 actions, built around three priorities – prevention, stronger enforcement and global partnership.

With regards to prevention, the main objectives are to reduce demand for illegal wildlife products, to tackle the corruption that is one of the key enablers, to close the EU market for illegal ivory and to engage more with business. The EU will shortly ban the export of old ivory tusks, which was still permitted under certain conditions and has increased considerably in the last five years. We are also working closely with the EU airports and airlines, as well as with the European exotic pet sector, to raise their awareness and mobilise them against wildlife trafficking.

The second priority is better implementation, enforcement and the fight against organised criminal groups.

The strong rules on wildlife trade which are already in place in the EU must be fully implemented and enforced. Large-scale investigations have been carried out recently in many EU Member States, in cooperation with Europol, which have led to the arrest of criminal groups involved in trafficking in ivory and European eels. This is the result of the momentum created by the Action Plan and of the improved collaboration on this issue between the enforcement agencies (customs, police, inspection services) in the Member States.

In line with commitments made at the UN in 2015 on tackling illicit trafficking in wildlife, Member States should make sure that organised wildlife crime is treated as a serious crime. A number of Member States have increased their penalties for these types of offences lately.

The third priority is the global partnership of source, transit and consumer countries. The EU is pressing for strong action by international organisations against wildlife trafficking, notably the CITES Convention which regulates international trade in 35,000 animal and plant species. We were a key actor at the last CITES Conference of Parties in October 2016. We are also proposing to put wildlife trafficking on the agenda of the Financial Action Task Force dealing with money laundering, and of the G20 under its anti-corruption agenda.

We have the largest diplomatic network in the world; we are the biggest global donor for development support and also the biggest trading block. The Action Plan sets out how these assets should be used to most effectively fight against wildlife trafficking.


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