“Threatened flora and fauna benefit from this trade treaty”

Technical coordinator Rianne Adriaans tells us all about CITES, a trade agreement imposed to limit wildlife trafficking.

In the service of the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, Dutch Customs monitors compliance with the CITES treaty. This trade agreement in favour of protected animals and plants does not hold any secrets for technical coordinator Rianne Adriaans. “Every year, we organize anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns with our partners in this area.”

“In the mid-1970s, a number of countries agreed that they were going to regulate the international trade in threatened animal and plant species from now on”, technical coordinator Rianne Adriaans explains. “These days, there’s hardly a country that hasn’t signed this CITES* agreement. The associated list includes all kinds of animals and plants that cannot be transported and sold freely in order to protect them from extinction. If Customs finds these when checking a container, suitcase or courier shipment – alive, dead or processed into, for instance, clothing or cosmetics – we check if the required permits are in place and OK.”

“When it comes to potentially banned flora and fauna, you name it, we've seen it. In the majority of cases, it concerns plants and vegetable products. The latter category includes the roots of American ginseng, for instance, or furniture made from ‘wrong wood’ such as Dalbergia. Animal materials are found as raw materials in goods as well, especially in traditional medicines and certain foodstuffs. We also come across shipments with live animals on a regular basis – exotic birds, reptiles, fish.... If the addressee is established in Europe, it usually concerns objects for the collectors’ market. If they are headed for a destination outside the EU – such as the Far East – they are often intended for consumption. Examples include some species of turtles, many of which still end up as soup, unfortunately.”

“During our inspections, we also look at how animals are packed and transported. This is subject to strict rules set by the IATA. If these rules are not complied with, it may constitute animal torture and in such cases, we contact a vet from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority – NVWA – to assess the situation.
The NVWA and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency are our principal partners in this area. Every year, we organise anti-wildlife trafficking campaigns with them. In 2019, we had the Thunderball inspection campaign, during which for example more than three kilos of elephant ears and about 120 pairs of python leather shoes were confiscated.”

“We all know that things are not going well when it comes to nature conservation and biodiversity. Still, there are some rays of hope. The fact that the Netherlands Enterprise Agency recently opened a drop-off centre for objects made from protected animals and plants – and a lot has already been dropped off – is encouraging for the future. Apparently, people now start to realise that there are all sorts of objects from faraway places that just don’t belong here. Our own Customs Travel App also helps to make people aware in that respect.”

“It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes, wildlife populations start to flourish again thanks to the aforementioned trade restrictions. We have even seen a plant or animal species being taken off the CITES list after a period of time. For those who work in this field, they are rare but welcome boosts. It proves this treaty has an effect.”

* CITES: Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

This interview also appeared in our recently issued overview ‘Dutch Customs in 2019’. Click here to read the full publication.

Navigate further, and also read ‘Shark fins surface among the cargo’.

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