EU Wildlife Trafficking Action Plan anniversary: Speed up implementation

Since the EU WTAP was adopted, we have many welcomed positive messages, but overall the full implementation has been taking too long.One year ago, the European Commission (EC) launched the European Action Plan to tackle wildlife trafficking within the European Union (EU WTAP).

European Member States (MS) adopted it in June last year, endorsed its priorities and called for a timely implementation. IFAW was instrumental in calling for a coordinated action plan like those for other serious crimes and while we welcomed the plan we also offered further recommendations to strengthen associated provisions to tackle wildlife crime.

Time has come to draw some first conclusions from what happened to this ambitious commitment.

Our world as we knew it changed in 2016, and sadly the Action Plan’s release coincided with the vast heartbreaking tragedy of migrants in the South of Europe, the bloody terrorist attacks in France, Germany and Belgium, and then the UK voting to leave the Union. As a result, the focus in Brussels and in the Member States was not drawn to the Action Plan as highly needed.

However, the increasing scale of wildlife trafficking is not only an issue of concern for the environment but also a security and a public health concern, as INTERPOL stated in a recent report which concluded wildlife trafficking and other forms of organized crime often occur together, therefore the full implementation of the EU WTAP cannot be delayed any further.

In the course of the past year we also welcomed positive messages. For example, the European Parliament addressed the issue of the implementation of the Action Plan by proposing a series of provisions in its Resolution (2016/2076(INI)) aimed at strengthening the Plan, from a full EU Ivory ban to the engagement by Member States with the operators of social media platforms, search engines and e-commerce platforms on the problem of the wildlife cybercrime. The Resolution also calls for proper financial resources to be allocated to the Action Plan as in the Member States there have still not dedicated funds devoted to its implementation and the Action Plan could easily fail if no financial and human resources are clearly allocated. This includes the need for Member States to support Europol in wildlife crime coordination across Europe.

The first chance for Member States, the European Commission, business sector and other stakeholders to come together and discuss next steps related to the Action Plan, was the organisation of the first in a series of foreseen yearly meetings, on the 8th of February to discuss engagement with the Business Sector. The full coverage of the conference and the latest developments by the Member States are available here.

Some progress has been achieved by Member States and the Commission on several actions as reported in the overview recently published by the Commission; i.e. Sweden does not issue any re-export permits or intra EU trade certificates for raw ivory; the UK does not issue export and re-export documents for raw ivory and France has recently published a decree which prohibits all trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in France with a few exceptions.

Currently the Commission, in cooperation with EU Member States, is developing guidelines on raw ivory designed to make sure that trade in legal old ivory within or from the EU does not contribute to international ivory trafficking. Recent leaked information published on the Guardian show that the Commission is actually considering doing an assessment by the end of 2017 to further strengthen these measures, as IFAW and other NGOs emphasized in a recent paper. IFAW considers this a good starting point and we hope the Commission will continue on this path”. Several Member States have also increased their internal capacities to combat wildlife trade and trained enforcement officials, organized workshops for customs officers and improved the facilities for confiscated live specimen, but still these actions need to be taken broadly.  

IFAW believes that political engagement is one of the biggest challenges that we need to address; illegal wildlife trade should be kept high on the EU political agenda, and considered a serious crime (action 22 of the WTAP), under the United Nations’ Convention against Transnational Organized Crime by each of the Member States. Policy commitments have been made already at the highest level, including the UN Economic and Social Council Resolution 2013/40 which calls on governments to treat wildlife crime as a serious crime.

If we want to tackle wildlife crime and finally implement the Action Plan properly, we should work together to face the challenge of demand reduction both through public awareness as well as the harmonization of legislations and sanctions within the EU. For this scope, the effectiveness of the Environmental Crime Directive (action 14 WTAP) has to be reviewed in line also with the current European Agenda on Security, adopted in 2015.

Grim times may be ahead, full of political tensions and environmental changes, but we need to remain positive and fight for a better world for future generations and endangered species.

We have to start from Europe where the Commission and the Member States must take concrete steps and actively collaborate to implement the EU WTAP fully and in a timely manner.


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
President and Chief Executive Officer
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Elsayed Ahmed Mohamed, Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Regional Director, Middle East and North Africa
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Executive Vice President
Executive Vice President
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Pauline Verheij, Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Program Manager, Wildlife Crime
Rikkert Reijnen, Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Program Director, Wildlife Crime
Country Representative, Germany
Country Representative, Germany
Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
Director, EU Office
Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy