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SOS Rhino : In the News : EU expansion 'poses risk to rare species'

EU expansion 'poses risk to rare species'

  By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

31 August 2004

Expansion of the European Union this year will put the world's endangered species at greater risk, conservationists warn, because the 25 countries are failing to agree on a common approach to save rare animals and plants.

Among animals at greatest risk are the great white shark, the leopard, black and white rhinoceros, Asian freshwater turtles, elephants and the irrawaddy dolphin, found in South-east Asian waters.

The first test will come at an international meeting in October in Bangkok, where countries belonging to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) will consider nearly 50 proposals to increase safeguards on rare species, or, in some cases, to remove protection that may have ensured their survival. The EU is to vote as a bloc, although member states vote in secret, but cracks are already understood to be appearing on significant issues.

Many of the proposals aim to increase the protection of species by cutting trade. The most notable is the Australian government's proposal to protect the great white shark - the famed "maneater" in Jaws - by banning all trade of their jaws, teeth and fins, as well as other body parts. Scientists say the shark's numbers have fallen by 79 per cent in the north-west Atlantic over the past 15 years, and international trade in its parts is making that worse. That would not prevent the killing of sharks that attack humans, but would stop a commercial business thought to be worth millions of pounds annually, in hunting and ornaments.

Cites, set up in 1973, provides limited or complete protection from international trade for 5,000 animal and 28,000 plant species, with stiff penalties for people caught trafficking in listed items. But some of the proposals to be debated in Bangkok seek to increase trade of species widely regarded as critically endangered.

Among proposals conservationists say could cause huge damage if passed are three from Namibia, which wants to begin exports of up to 2,000 tons of raw ivory and an unlimited amount of "worked" ivory annually, and (with South Africa) to trade elephant-leather goods, and also to increase the number of leopard "trophies" - often from live hunts - that can be exported annually from 100 to 250.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) says the EU must oppose such measures, but fears that opposition by some countries could be weakened by the requirement to vote as a single bloc at the conference. If two-thirds of the EU countries cannot agree on a position, no EU vote is cast.

Jenny Hawley, a spokes-woman for Ifaw, said: "The EU frequently abstains on controversial issues at Cites conferences. There was a vote previously at Cites about proposals to reopen the ivory trade by allowing sales of stockpiles. The EU vote would have been decisive, but because the countries couldn't agree on their viewpoint the result was an abstension."

That problem will be magnified by the EU's expansion, which grew from 15 to 25 countries on 1 May, Ms Hawley said, because it will make agreement harder to reach. In some cases, countries within the EU have opposing views on the same Cites proposal.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Although there may be differences of detail, it is not expected that there will be major areas of disagreement between the member states on the proposals."

31 August 2004 15:46

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