Using CITES to Protect Afrormosia in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a home to Afrormosia (Pericopsis elata), a rare variety of tropical tree that is valued worldwide for its usefulness as beautiful interior hardwoods.

In July of 2014, the Standing Committee of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) failed to take strong measures to protect Afrormosia during its annual meeting in Geneva. Despite a strong intervention from the European Union (EU), the species remains at risk due to widespread illegal logging and international export.

Since 1992, Afrormosia has been listed under Annex II of CITES, which includes species that experts fear could verge on extinction if their trade is unrestricted. DRC is now under an Article XIII review because of huge issues with compliance and transparency, not only with Afrormosia, but also with all its CITES species. Parties to CITES were notified that they should not accept CITES permits from the DRC until the permits are checked and verified by the Secretariat. Unfortunately, this may provide cover to illegal imports since the Secretariat does not investigate the permits; it merely checks whether the permit was issued by the DRC Management Authority and reviews the permit for “obvious indications of illegal trade.” Since the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR) came into force in March 2013, there is a new incentive to cheat with CITES permits because a “valid” CITES permit provides a means of showing compliance with the EUTR.

Greenpeace and CIEL urged the DRC to immediately suspend all cutting of Afrormosia and to cancel all authorizations for its cutting. Moreover, we urged the DRC to take legal action against companies it issued CITES permits to, who then informed the government that some of the permits were “unaccounted for,” as well as against any officials involved in the issuance or use of the missing permits.

Despite Afromosia’s disheartening elimination from the Review of Significant Trade, the EU’s urging of the DRC to deliver strong evidence for the 2015 export quota offers an opportunity for continued monitoring of the DRC’s compliance in Afromosia protection. The 2015 quota was set at 23,240 m3—nearly the same as the 25,000 m3 quotas for 2012-2014—and it remains to be seen whether the 2015 quota will increase based on completion of other concession inventories.  Additionally, the EU also put Afrormosia on the agenda of the next CITES Plants Committee meeting so as to create a potential basis for future enforcement measures within CITES.

International trade in Afrormosia wood should be suspended and a drastic improvement in enforcement is required if the species is not to remain at great risk of overexploitation in the DRC and four other range states.  A letter and briefing documents Greenpeace and CIEL distributed to Parties at the Standing Committee can be found here.