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By Isabel Camarena and Akiko Inoguchi

Protect and verify: Legally trading CITES-listed trees species



  • The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild  Fauna and Flora (CITES) is a key international conservation instrument for ensuring forest products trade does not threaten the survival of international wildlife species.  
  • In this article, authors Isabel Camarena and Akiko Inoguchi explain how the UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative works with CITES to help preserve endangered  species such as rosewood and agarwood in the region.
  • In spite of efforts to make the trade processes under CITES work, illegal logging and trade in CITES-listed species remains a grave problem. As such, trainings were held to  build capacity with law-enforcement agencies in the region.

A hotspot for biodiversity, the Lower Mekong Region is home to around 100 CITES-listed tree species which have high commercial trade value.

This includes rosewood, and agarwood. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wilde Fauna and Flora (CITES) is regarded as a key international conservation instrument for ensuring forest products trade does not threaten the survival of international wildlife species. 

Effective implementation and enforcement of the regulatory framework established by CITES supports species’ conservation, livelihoods and sustainable development. Compliance with CITES trade processes can play a key role in reducing illegal forest trade and improving forest governance.

The UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative works with the CITES Secretariat to strengthen national structures and capacity to comply with CITES trade processes, including the Legal Acquisition Findings (LAF), Non-Detriment Findings (NDF) and CITES e-permits. 


Legal Acquisition Findings 

Verifying the origin and legality of CITES-listed timber species is at the core of the CITES trade processes. This is done in each country by national CITES Management Authorities who assess exports containing CITES species and issue what is called Legal Acquisition Findings (LAF) when an export consignment is found to be satisfactory. This is to ensure that the product was sourced and obtained in accordance with relevant laws and regulations throughout the value chain. 

For countries in the Lower Mekong, the maturity of LAF processes has to do with the robustness of the country’s legal framework, trade regulations and the volume of trade and industry. Thailand is making significant strides towards the finalization of LAF guidance for tree species and has included CITES permit issuance and verification processes in the national Timber Legality Assurance System (TLAS). Thailand is currently developing its TLAS as part of its negotiation of a Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade (FLEGT) Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the European Union.

Viet Nam has made considerable progress in defining legality and mechanisms for verification, helped by the same FLEGT VPA process. In the regional trainings on LAF, conducted under the UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative, the experience of these countries, as well as other countries including Singapore and China, helped to inform and mutually build understanding and capacity for Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar.


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Supporting the conservation and sustainable trade of Lao PDR’s rosewoods

Rosewood has historically been a prized timber in the region, supplying markets and consumers predominantly in China. In the early 2000s, demand for Rosewood peaked, resulting in unsustainable exploitation in many of the region’s countries. 

In 2016, the species was listed under CITES Appendix II. Since 2018, all commercial exports of two species of rosewood (Dalbergia cochinchinensis and Dalbergia oliveri) from Lao PDR have been suspended, and the country is undergoing a compliance process under CITES.

The CITES authorities of Lao PDR are developing a standard of Non-Detriment Findings (NDF) for these two species. This standard will be used by the National CITES Authorities to assess and certify the non-detriment nature of each export request, by issuance of an NDF. At the core of the NDF is the scientific review and analysis of Lao PDR’s current resource base and capacity for commercial harvest and exports of these two species, both from natural forests, as well as from plantations. The National Agriculture and Forest Research Institute (NAFRI) of Lao PDR, with technical advisory from the CITES Secretariat and FAO, has started the rigorous process of reviewing and analyzing the resource base.

Field work is an important element of this review to better understand how much rosewood is regenerating throughout the country and to inform a recommendation towards the establishment of sustainable export quotas for rosewood (if any) and a long-term rosewood conservation and sustainable management strategy. First outcomes are scheduled for mid-2022, anticipating field work can go on despite COVID travel restrictions. 


E-permit solutions  

Once export consignments successfully undergo verification and assessment by the national CITES Management Authorities, they are issued a CITES permit. Automating CITES permit management can prove crucial not only in time efficiency, but also in the traceability of trade in CITES-listed species. This is why e-permitting, while not a requirement of the CITES trade processes, is encouraged for countries that have sizeable trade in CITES-listed species. 

Through a webinar in May 2021, LMR countries were introduced to the benefits for using the automated permitting systems. This training was an opportunity to explore interest within the region in the implementation of national eCITES solutions. Following the webinar, Cambodia expressed interest in potentially introducing eCITES solutions and will be undertaking a feasibility study in 2022.


Coordination in law-enforcement efforts 

In spite of efforts to make the trade processes under CITES work, illegal logging and trade in CITES-listed species remains a grave problem, involving links to transnational organized crime groups. In acknowledgement of such realities, under the UN-REDD Lower Mekong initiative, coordinated efforts are being made with partners, such as INTERPOL and UNODC, working on the law-enforcement side of trade dynamics. 

In October, 2021, an online regional training was organized for the Lower Mekong and broader regional countries to build capacity with law-enforcement agencies in the physical inspection of timber shipments. Resource persons from INTERPOL and UNEP WCMC were among the trainers providing theoretical and hands-on training. 

Participants from the Lower Mekong exchanged experiences and sought advice from other participants, including from Singapore and China, on how investigations are coordinated across the different law-enforcement agencies, communication and intelligence sharing across borders and resources and equipment used for correctly identifying tree species. 


This article is part of the 8-story mini series featuring key highlights, lessons learnt and insights in the first phase of the UN-REDD Lower Mekong Initiative. Click on the link below to read the rest of the articles.