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UN/CEFACT digital standards can help governments reduce the risk of disease transmission ‎from animals and facilitate legal trade

Published: 14 April 2020

Coronaviruses, including the one responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, are a large family of viruses that are common in animals, and can occasionally be transmitted to humans – a phenomenon known as “zoonosis”.

Ensuring proper controls on the international trade in animals and animal products and enabling the adequate enforcement of strict sanitary standards are therefore important steps to limiting the risks of transmission from animals to humans.

However, most existing controls on the international trade of animals, plants and other agricultural products worldwide are still done through the issuance and exchange of licenses, permits and certificates in paper format. This is not only slow but also more vulnerable to fraud, forgery and corruption, thus hindering efficient implementation of health and safety controls by governments.

UN/CEFACT standards facilitate legal, sustainable and safe trade

Fortunately, alternative solutions are being tested and rolled out successfully. To strengthen controls that can ensure both the legality of international trade and the enforcement of sanitary standards, governments are increasingly turning towards high-tech protection mechanisms, including the standards developed at UNECE’s United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT).

These cover areas including the “eCERT” system for the electronic exchange of sanitary and phytosanitary certificates issued to ensure that plants and animals traded internationally are free of diseases. This standard has been implemented by countries all over the world, such as in the European Union, USA, China, the Russian Federation, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya, the Republic of Korea, Chile, Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Japan.

Tackling illegal wildlife trade

Gaps in implementation tend to be exploited by criminal actors involved in the illegal wildlife trade which, together with illegal logging and fishing, is worth an estimated USD 1 trillion or more per year, according to World Bank figures. This makes it the fourth largest global illegal trade after narcotics, counterfeiting of products and currency, and human trafficking, according to UNODC.

Action to address these gaps is the basis of the strategic partnership between the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and UN/CEFACT. CITES regulates trade in over 36,000 species of wild animals and plants among its 183 Parties – 182 States and the EU. Joint work between the CITES Secretariat, UNCTAD and UNECE supports the exchange of electronic “eCITES” permits to significantly strengthen control measures on international trade of CITES-listed species.

The layout of the CITES permit has been aligned to the UN Layout Key, thus making CITES permits and data content easily recognizable for customs officers around the world. CITES also applies all relevant UN/CEFACT recommended code lists, such as ISO country codes or UN/CEFACT Units of Measurement codes in its permits and in the annual trade reports submitted by CITES Parties. This allows for more efficient control of trade restrictions and the establishment of a global statistical database on CITES trade.

Governments have started to exchange secure eCITES permits, which reduces opportunities for fraudulent paperwork in the context of international wildlife trade. Pilot exchanges of electronic permits have been underway since 2017, when the first test was launched by Switzerland and France, and the European Commission is currently developing a system for the secure exchange of electronic CITES permits between EU member States and other countries. UNECE is now working with ESCAP and UNCTAD to support authorities in Greenland, Mozambique, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Singapore in their use of these advanced trade control procedures.

Building on the UN/CEFACT standards, UNCTAD has also developed an advanced electronic permit management system, enabling electronic information exchange with customs and border control agencies, and allowing electronic data analysis and targeted inspections on wildlife trade. The first use of this system was completed in March 2020 in Sri Lanka, allowing traders and government agencies to remotely request, issue and control CITES permits.

The continued roll-out of these new mechanisms will support the implementation of the September 2019 United Nations General Assembly resolution to urgently tackle illicit trafficking in wildlife, which called on countries “to take measures making permit systems more resistant to corruption and to take advantage of modern information and communications technologies”. The ultimate goal is to contribute to conserving wild species, ensure the legality and sustainability of their commercial trade, and contribute to efforts to protect citizens around the world from future pandemics.

Note to editors

About UN/CEFACT standards

UN/CEFACT has developed several standards that help reduce risks and ensure quality in international agri-trade. These include the eAnimal Passport (Cattle registration information exchange), used by EU inspection authorities to identify and verify individual animals being transported across borders, and the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed which enables importing and exporting countries – including the EU – to quickly exchange information related to measures taken in response to the detection of serious risks.

UN/CEFACT eCERT electronic certificates also support better control of Phyto Certificates to prevent spread of pests.

For more information on UN/CEFACT standards, please visit:   https://www.unece.org/uncefact/mainstandards.html.


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