Importers and exporters of wildlife, plants, and their products must be aware of the regulations established by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (commonly known as CITES) and the Lacey Act. These laws aim to protect endangered species and prevent illegal trade. Below, we will explain these regulations, what importers and exporters need to know regarding them, and the potential necessary permits.
What is CITES?
CITES, also known as the Washington Convention, is an international agreement between governments to regulate or outright ban, in some instances, international trade in species under threat. The ultimate goal of CITES is to ensure that trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
The agreement works by subjecting international trade in specimens of selected species to specific controls. All import and export of species covered by the convention must be authorized through a licensing system.
Species regulated by CITES
CITES regulates over 35,000 species of plants and animals. These species are listed in three appendices, with Appendix I being the most strictly protected and Appendix III being the least protected. Appendix I includes species threatened with extinction and cannot be traded commercially. Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction but may become so if trade is not regulated. Appendix III contains species protected in at least one country that has asked other CITES Parties for help controlling their trade.
What is the Lacey Act?
The Lacey Act is a U.S. law that prohibits the import, export, transport, sale, or purchase of fish, wildlife, or plants taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any foreign country's law or any international treaty or convention. The Lacey Act was enacted in 1900 and amended in 1981 and 2008.
The Lacey Act protects plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for various violations. The 2008 Farm Bill amended the Lacey Act to extend protections to a broader range of plants and plant products. The Lacey Act makes it illegal to import certain products without an import declaration.
Species regulated by the Lacey Act
The Lacey Act regulates all species of fish, wildlife, and plants listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The act also allows the Secretary of the Interior to prohibit importing and shipping wildlife species designated as dangerous. The only exempt animals are common domesticated animals like dogs, cats, and livestock.
Required permits for importing or exporting regulated species
For most regulated species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requires an import or export permit. The specific requirements vary depending on the species and the country of origin. In addition to permits, some species may require other documentation, such as a health certificate or a CITES certificate of origin.
When you might need to submit for a permit
From our experience, if your import or export item contains any of the following materials, you will likely need to obtain a permit:
- New or modern wood
- Petrified wood
- Turtle shell
Additionally, it is essential to note that most countries completely ban ivory trading.
Important details to know about permits and e-declarations
When acquiring your CITES permits, it is advisable to allow plenty of time. In our experience, permits can take 6-12 months for approval. However, regarding electronic import/export licenses (eLicense) required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), approval can take 5-6 days once submitted.
Here are some additional tips and resources for importers and exporters looking to learn more:
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s CITES Permits and Certificates.
- CITES Document Requirements Guidance for U.S. Importers and Exporters.
- USDA’s Do I Need a Lacey Act Declaration?
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Guidance on the Lacey Declaration
- Be aware of the penalties for violating CITES and the Lacey Act.
- Work with a reputable importer/exporter who is familiar with these laws.
What are the penalties for violating CITES and the Lacey Act?
The penalties for violating CITES and the Lacey Act can be severe, including fines, imprisonment, and the forfeiture of the regulated species. Do your research before importing or exporting any regulated species, ensure you have the necessary permits and documentation, and work with a reputable importer/exporter familiar with these laws.
It is essential for importers and exporters of wildlife, plants, and their products to be aware of the regulations set forth by the countries they plan to trade within. By following the necessary procedures and obtaining the required permits and documentation, importers and exporters can ensure compliance with these laws and contribute to protecting species under threat.