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CITES Plants Committee Meeting – Report from Buenos Aires: AHPA Continues its Involvement in CITES Policy Development

Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), attended the 18th meeting of the Plants Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Buenos Aires, Argentina from March 16-22, 2009. His account of that meeting was published in the May 2009 issue of the AHPA Report, and a slightly edited version of the article is reprinted below.

Background on CITES

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement that originated in 1975 and currently involves 175 countries. Specific requirements have been established for international trade in plant and animal species that are listed by CITES, and these requirements differ for each of 3 defined CITES Appendices. Appendix I includes all species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade; Appendix II includes species that may not be currently threatened with extinction but could become so unless trade in those species is subject to strict regulation; and Appendix III includes species that any party regulates within its jurisdiction to prevent or restrict exploitation and needs cooperation of other parties to control such trade.

A number of AHPA’s members market products that contain as ingredients plant, and in some cases animal, species that are listed on one of the Appendices maintained by CITES. AHPA and its members (as well as other parties involved in the trade of botanical materials) therefore have an interest in CITES and need to understand the processes and practices that must be followed to be in conformity with CITES when importing and exporting CITES-listed species.

Issues before the 18th Meeting of the CITES Plants Committee

The CITES Plants Committee covers many topics at each of its meetings and usually addresses several issues with direct relevance for marketers of herbal products that contain plants listed by CITES. At the Buenos Aires meeting these included the following subjects:

Annotations on Exclusion of Finished Products

Working groups of the Plants Committee (on which AHPA has served as a member) have been meeting over the past several years to consider whether to expand the use of an exemption from CITES trade controls for finished products that contain certain Appendix II-listed species. The precedent for this exemption was established when the introduction of the cancer drug Taxol® (paclitaxel) led to the listing in 1995 of Taxus wallichiana (Taxaceae) with an annotation to except “finished pharmaceutical products.”1 CITES subsequently considered extending this exemption to other plants traditionally used as medicines, at which time AHPA requested that it be acknowledged that these plants are not marketed as medicines in many countries. AHPA’s request was accepted and this annotation has now been modified to exempt “finished products packaged and ready for retail trade” and extended to several other plant species identified by CITES as “medicinal” (i.e., Adonis vernalis, Ranunculaceae; Guaiacum spp., Fabaceae; Hydrastis canadensis, Ranunculaceae; Nardostachys grandiflora, Valerianaceae; Panax ginseng, Araliaceae; P. quinquefolius; Picrorhiza kurrooa, Scrophulariaceae; Podophyllum hexandrum, Berberidaceae; Rauvolfia serpentina, Apocynaceae; Taxus chinensis, Taxaceae; T. fauna; T. cuspidata; and T. sumatrana).2

The focus of the most recent working group has been to consider whether the annotation is also appropriate for 3 other species: Cibotium barometz (Scythian lamb or jin mao gou ji, Dicksoniaceae), Cistanche deserticola (desert broomrape or rou cong rong, Orobanchaceae) stem, and Dionaea muscipula (Venus’ fly trap, Droseraceae). The guiding principle for considering this finished product exemption was articulated at CITES’ 2004 Conference of the Parties (CoP13), at which the Plants Committee was instructed to develop annotations that “focus on those commodities that first appear in international trade as exports from range States and on those that dominate the trade and the demand for the wild resource.”3 Based on a report from China (a range state for Cibotium barometz and Cistanche deserticola) that most specimens exported from China are in the form of finished products, the Plants Committee accepted the working group’s recommendation against applying the finished product annotation to these species. And because of the low volume of international trade in D. muscipula, the committee also recommended that the annotation should not apply to this species.4 These recommendations will be reported to the next CoP, scheduled for 2010.

Import Controls on International Trade in Lipstick with CITES-listed Ingredients

The above report would thus have concluded that the working group assigned itself a task which, after numerous e-mails and discussions to consider input provided by the range states of these 3 species, resulted in recommendations by the Plants Committee to do nothing. But enterprising inspectors in Germany and Switzerland threw a wrinkle in the Plants Committee’s consideration of finished products exemptions by initiating enforcement policies late last year for imported lipstick and other cosmetics containing less than a milligram of candelilla wax to comply with all relevant CITES import and export requirements.

Euphorbia antisyphilitica (Euphorbiaceae)—the source of this natural wax—has been on CITES Appendix II since 1975. Its range states are limited to the United States and Mexico, and commercial production of the wax occurs only in Mexico. The species has never been annotated to exclude finished products, but until the recent European actions, finished cosmetics that contain candelilla wax have not been subjected to enforcement. The emergence of this new policy has been quite disruptive to several international cosmetic companies and has threatened to undermine Mexico’s commercial operations as their cosmetic customers consider short-and long-term responses.

CITES’ processes are consultative in nature and generally rely on informed and thorough consideration of extensive background information about any topic under review. This sort of process is not designed to respond to issues in which a need for immediate decisions is presented. But it became quite clear at the Plants Committee meeting that something needed to be done—and quickly—to address the issue of international trade in finished products containing candelilla wax. Thus, Germany submitted a trade survey in which it stated that application of the finished product annotation “will not be harmful and therefore could be supported.”5 Mexico also submitted a document that described the collection and processing of candelilla wax and clarified that it is the wax itself that is the article of export.6 And AHPA provided a document to suggest that finished product exemptions be considered for plants that are not defined by CITES as medicinal and that exemptions also be considered for finished products that are not yet packaged.7

After considerable discussion in working groups and in the full committee’s plenary sessions, it was agreed that “finished products of E. antisyphilitica packaged and ready for retail trade” should be exempted from CITES controls.4 This decision will be presented to the 2010 CoP and, if adopted, would come into effect 90 days later. It is yet to be seen whether the cosmetic companies that use candelilla wax will exhibit patience for this process to be completed or whether they will find a replacement ingredient that will result in a loss of income in northern Mexico at a time when other employment options there are rare or unattractive.

Review of Significant Trade in Medicinal Plants

CITES includes as one of its processes an opportunity “to review the biological, trade and other relevant information on Appendix-II species subject to significant levels of trade, to identify problems and solutions concerning the implementation of Article IV, paragraphs 2 (a), 3 and 6 (a).”8 The cited paragraphs are related to the requirements for the exporting country to certify that export “will not be detrimental” to the species’ survival (paragraph 2 (a)), and to monitor permit issuance and actual exports and to propose quantitative harvest limits if needed (paragraph 3); paragraph 6 (a) is relevant just to articles introduced from the sea.

At its 12th meeting in 2002, the Plants Committee selected several species for review, including Prunus africana (pygeum, syn. Pygeum africanum, Rosaceae). This review is ongoing, and it has included a decision by the Committee to categorize harvest of this species as of “urgent concern” in several of its range states (i.e., Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, and United Republic of Tanzania).9 Each of these countries has now either voluntarily set a zero export quota or has been identified in a notification from the CITES Secretariat recommending suspension of trade in P. africana from these countries.10 This review has included an extensive evaluation of harvest of the species on Bioko Island (in Equatorial Guinea),11 at a cost of about €60,000 (in 2004), which was contributed by Spain. The chair of the Plants Committee and observers from Germany and Mexico were recorded as describing the project as “a good example of how to make sound nondetriment findings for a species included in Appendix II,” and noting that it “could be used as a model.”9

The significant trade review process has also been extended to other plants used medicinally. In a document submitted at the 15th meeting of the Plants Committee in 2005, Germany expressed concern that “action to address gaps in CITES implementation” in regard to a variety of Asian medicinal plants had been “limited.”12 The Committee has, at each of its subsequent meetings, revisited this topic and has included 4 species in the review of significant trade: Cistanche deserticola; Pterocarpus santalinus (red saunders, red sandalwood, Fabaceae); Rauvolfia serpentina (Indian snakeroot, Apocynaceae); and Taxus wallichiana. In addition, a decision was adopted at CoP14 to direct range states, the representative of Asia, and the CITES Secretariat to “ensure implementation of regionally coordinated actions” to improve management of and prevent illegal trade in these and 3 other species: Dioscorea deltoidea (Dioscoreaceae); Nardostachys grandiflora; and Picrorhiza kurrooa. The CoP14 decision also requested submission of progress reports at the next 2 scheduled Plants Committee meetings.13 A progress report submitted at the Buenos Aires meeting of the Plants Committee noted that very little progress has been made to date on review of these species.13

Development of Standards for Determination of Non-detriment Findings

A central tenet of CITES is the requirement for range states of any Appendix II-listed species to issue an export certificate for each exported quantity advising that such export “will not be detrimental to the survival of that species.”14 In the decades in which CITES has been in place, however, there has not been any standard approach established for determination of such “non-detriment findings” (NDFs). The Plants Committee has therefore developed an interest in establishing some standards to ensure consistency in making these essential determinations.

Numerous reports were addressed to this topic at the Buenos Aires meeting, and several working groups took on the issue (one as a follow-up to an International Expert Workshop on NDFs held in Mexico last November; one on Timber Species and Prunus africana; one on Agarwood-producing Species (Aquilaria malaccensis, Thymelaeaceae); and one on Medicinal Plants, in which AHPA was included). A common theme was established among the various groups, such that each identified “generic principles applicable to the NDF process in CITES regardless of the taxa being considered,” and including:

  • “The non-detriment finding (NDF) for Appendix I and II species verifies that traded volumes within the range state are not detrimental to the survival of that species.
  • “The NDF considers whether the species is maintained throughout its range at a level consistent with its role in the ecosystems in which it occurs.

  • “The data requirements for an NDF are tailored to appropriate precision according to the resilience or vulnerability of the target species.
  • “The implementation of an adaptive management scheme based on regular monitoring is an important consideration in the NDF evaluation process.

  • “The NDF is based on resource assessment methodologies.

  • “The NDF employs appropriate broad-scale assessment, such as total harvest assessments.”

In addition, each working group recommended that an NDF-specific resolution be considered at the next CoP and that such resolution recommend that Parties to CITES consider the above principles in making nondetriment findings, as well as consider other guidance contained in the several reports submitted by the various working groups.


As should be apparent, either from this report or from the experiences that individual companies have already gained, the listing on a CITES Appendix of any plant used in a commercialized product has ramifications for manufacturers and marketers of such products. Although CITES processes can move quite slowly, it may also be inevitable that regulatory controls associated with any CITES-listed species will move only in the direction of more stringency. To date some of the wealthier Parties to the Convention have shown a willingness to bear expenses related to developing models for implementation of CITES policies, but industry cannot assume that these expenses will always be covered by others, even as the models become more complex. All that may be certain is that AHPA members (and non-member companies engaged in the trade of botanical products) should maintain attention on this long-established international agreement, and that AHPA itself must continue to serve an active role as an observer to meetings of the Plants Committee and to Conferences of the Parties.

—Michael McGuffin


  1. Amendments to Appendices I and II of the Convention. Adopted November 1994. Available at:

  2. Notification to the Parties. July 26, 2007. Available at: E022.pdf.

  3. CoP13 Doc. 58: Annotations for medicinal plants in the Appendices. October 2004. Available at:

  4. PC18 WG4 Doc. 1: Cactaceae and Orchidaceae: Merging and amendment of Annotations #1 and #4; and Tree species: Annotations for species included in Appendices II and III. March 2009. Available at:

  5. PC18 Inf. 6: Trade survey study on succulent Euphorbia species protected by CITES and used as cosmetic, food and medicine, with special focus on candelilla wax. March 2009. Available at:

  6. PC18 Inf. 10: Evaluación de estatus de Euphorbia antisyphilitica en México dentro de los apéndices de la CITES. March 2009. Available at: PC/18/X-PC18-Inf10.pdf.

  7. PC18 Inf. 17: International commerce and annotation for finished products containing candelilla wax derived from Euphorbia antisyphilitica. March 2009. Available at: http://www.

  8. Conf. 12.8 (Rev. CoP13): Review of significant trade in specimens of Appendix-II species. Available at:

  9. CITES Summary Record, Sixteenth Meeting of the Plants Committee. July 2006. Available at:
  10. PC18 Doc. 8.3: Overview of the species based review of significant trade. March 2009. Available at:
  11. PC16 Doc. 10.2.1: Evaluation of the harvest of Prunus africana bark on the Bioko Island (Equatorial Guinea); Guidelines for a management plan. July 2006.
  12. PC15 Doc. 10.2.2: Seven Asian medicinal species. May 2005. Available at: http://www.cites. org/eng/com/PC/15/E-PC15-10-02-02.pdf.
  13. PC18 Doc. 8.5 (Rev. 1): Progress report on seven Asian species of medicinal plants. March

    2009. Available at:
  14. CITES, Text of the Convention, Article IV, paragraph 2 (a).