The following statement was issued today by Sue Lieberman, Vice President of International Policy for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), at CITES CoP19 on the role of CITES member governments in reducing risk of future pathogen spillover and potential zoonotic disease emergence associated with live wildlife trade.

CITES Cop19 (the 19th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is meeting through Nov. 25 in Panama. Here, the 184 CITES member governments have gathered to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species. One new policy discussion underway is the role international trade policies can play to prevent future pandemics.

Currently, there is not consensus by the CITES Parties to address how trade policies can play a role to prevent pathogen spillover from live wildlife, and thereby future pandemics. WCS, which served on the CITES Standing Committee Working Group on reducing zoonotic disease associated with wildlife trade, takes the position that CITES governments have a strong role to play by advancing a One Health strategy and supporting actions to close large commercial markets in live birds and animals.

Said Lieberman: “We believe that CITES and its implementation of trade policies has a role to play in the prevention of future pandemics, although there is a great deal that needs to be done that is outside the remit of CITES.

“It is vital that prevention at the source (particularly of pathogen spillover from wildlife) of the next outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic of zoonotic origin be addressed at both the national trade level as well as the multilateral trade level. We believe that CITES and its implementation have a role to play in this prevention.

“WCS greatly appreciates the leadership of countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Israel and the United States as they advance a resolution that will help CITES Parties initiate measures, as a matter of urgency, to mitigate the risk of future pandemics resulting from zoonotic pathogen spillover from wildlife. 

“We appreciate the discussion at CITES CoP19 and the recognition of the acute urgency of the situation, and interventions from many Parties. It would be unfortunate, and sad, for the CITES CoP to tell the world that it’s acceptable to discuss the issue further and wait another 3 years to act; prevention of an epidemic or pandemic of zoonotic origin must be on a much faster track. 

"We urge CITES member government not to wait for CoP20 or beyond. This is NOT premature—We owe it to the now 8 billion people on our planet, particularly the most vulnerable, to do everything we can to prevent future epidemics and pandemics of zoonotic origin.”