How CITES works

CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

CITES was drafted in 1963 after a meeting of members of IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) and entered into force on 1 July 1975.

Countries (referred to as parties) adhere voluntarily to the CITES agreement. Although CITES is legally binding on the parties it does not take the place of national laws but rather provides a framework for domestic legislation. There are now over 175 parties to CITES. Australia became a party in 1976.

CITES and Australian law

CITES is enforceable under Australian national environment law - the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

CITES places species into three categories (appendices) based on their conservation status and the risk from trade. The three CITES appendices are combined into a single list in Australia called "The guide to the list of CITES species", which clearly identifies the conditions or restrictions that apply to each specimen, the appendix under which it has been listed and the date of listing. A comprehensive database of every CITES species is available on the CITES International website. The CITES database does not include Australia's stricter domestic measures.

The Australian Government environment minister may apply stricter domestic measures to identified CITES species. These measures result in particular species or products being regulated more strictly than provided by their CITES classification. For example, a specimen that is listed in CITES Appendix II may be treated as if it were listed under Appendix I.

Management and scientific authorities

Each party or member country of CITES must designate management and scientific authorities. Management authorities:

  • authorise and issue permits and certificates of origin
  • communicate information to other parties and the Secretariat
  • report on compliance matters and contribute to CITES annual reports

The management authority for CITES in Australia is the Australian Government Department of the Environment.

Scientific authorities provide scientific advice and recommendations to the management authorities. For example, they can provide advice about:

  • biological and trade information on species proposed for listing in the appendices
  • suitable measures to limit export of specimens on Appendix I
  • the suitability of recipients of live specimens listed on Appendix I to house and care for them
  • whether a scientific institution meets the criteria for registration to exchange CITES-listed specimens
  • whether a facility meets the criteria for captive breeding or artificial propagation in accordance with CITES
  • whether a management program for commercial harvested species from the wild is sustainable in accordance with CITES.

The Scientific Authority for CITES in Australia is the Australian Government Department of the Environment. The Wildlife Trade Assessment and the Marine Policy Development sections administer the functions of this role.


Member countries are responsible for enforcing CITES. In most countries, customs officers enforce CITES regulations. Governments must also submit reports, including trade records, to the CITES Secretariat in Switzerland. To ensure effective enforcement at the international level, the Secretariat acts as a clearinghouse for the exchange of information and liaison between the parties and with other authorities and organisations.

In Australia, the International Wildlife Trade Section of the federal environment department coordinates enforcement matters. Most investigations are done by the department and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service or the Australian Federal Police.