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U.S. Proposal on Polar Bears Not Adopted by CITES

WASHINGTON - Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tom Strickland today said the United States is disappointed its proposal to protect polar bears from international trade was not accepted by the 175-nation the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora meeting this week in Doha, Qatar, but that the United States would continue to work with other countries on threats to the species, including climate change.

"We strongly believe that, as a threatened species, polar bears and their parts should not be traded internationally, and we are disappointed that our proposed ban on commercial trade did not get the votes it needed to pass," Strickland said. "At the same time, we are encouraged that there has been considerable dialogue among nations on dealing with the primary threat to polar bears, the melting of their artic habitat due to climate change."

CITES is an international agreement initiated in 1973 and signed by more than 175 countries regulating global trade in imperiled wild animals and plants including their parts and products. A Conference of the Parties is held every 2-3 years to review, discuss, and negotiate changes in the management and control of trade in the various wildlife species covered by the agreement.

This U.S. proposal would have listed the polar bear in Appendix I of the treaty, which includes species for which it is determined that any commercial trade is detrimental to the survival of the species. Therefore, no commercial trade is allowed in Appendix-I species. Non-commercial trade in these species is allowed if it does not jeopardize the species' survival in the wild. Permits are required for the exportation and importation of Appendix-I species.

After more than one hour of discussion of the proposal in CITES' Animals and Plants Committee, the United States asked for a vote of the member nations. The final results were 48 in support, 62 opposed, and 11 abstentions. CITES procedures require a two-thirds majority vote for any listing decision to be accepted. The European Union votes in a block and represents 27 votes, even if individual countries within the EU may support a proposal. 

The U.S. position emphasized that any additional threats including a relatively small commercial trade in polar bears adds additional pressure to an already stressed population. Therefore, a precautionary approach, to eliminate the commercial trade in polar bears by listing them in CITES Appendix I was appropriate.

A number of nations recognized the threat that the polar bear faces from loss of sea ice due to climate change but disagreed over whether the requirements of the listing criteria were met, asserting that polar bears are not significantly affected by international trade and, therefore, should not be listed in Appendix I.

For additional information about the polar bear and CITES, visit the U.S. delegation CITES website at www.uscites.gov.

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