Amending the Convention text is specifically provided for in Article XVII1 of the Convention. If one third of CITES Parties request it in writing, then the Secretariat will convene an extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP)2 to consider and adopt amendments to the Convention. To be accepted, two thirds of Parties present and voting must adopt them. The text of any “proposed amendment” needs to be communicated to all Parties 90 days prior to the meeting.
Once amendments are adopted, they do not automatically come into force. Amendments enter into force once two thirds of Parties accept the amendments. At that point, the amendments come into force for those Parties that have accepted them, and they will automatically apply to any new Parties.
The amendments that are considered by the CoP are only the proposed amendments submitted in writing by the one third of Parties requesting the consideration and adoption of such amendments3.
Amending or adopting new Resolutions or decisions can be done at any regular meeting of the Conference of the Parties by submitting proposals within the time frames specified in Part V of the CITES CoP Rules of Procedure. Proposals for new Resolutions or decisions, or revisions to existing Resolutions or decisions, can be submitted by any Party to the Convention, the Secretariat, or by the CITES Animals, Plants, or Standing Committees. Decisions and Resolutions are adopted by the Parties at a regular CoP, and where there is no consensus, by a vote requiring a two thirds majority of those Parties present and voting. Extraordinary meetings of the CoP can be combined with regular meetings.
Partnerships can be established by the Secretariat or, in some cases, they can be established through the CoP or the Standing Committee. There is a broad mandate to establish partnerships found in Goal 5 of the CITES Strategic Vision 2021-2030. The previous version of this Vision was used to support the Secretariat entering into cooperative agreements with the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) in 2015, IATA (International Air Transport Association) in 2015, and UNCTAD (UN Conference on Trade and Development) in 2015, amongst others.
The Convention text, including its Appendices, are legally binding on Parties and form part of what is often called ‘hard law’.
Resolutions.4 interpret the Convention and the application of its provisions. Resolutions are generally intended to provide long-standing guidance while decisions are typically time-bound actions directed to a specific CITES body, such as its Committees and Secretariat. Both are important tools for the evolution and implementation of the Convention. They are not legally binding on Parties and are regarded as being part of ‘soft law’, but there is an expectation they will be implemented.
Amendment of the Convention. 1. An extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Parties shall be convened by the Secretariat on the written request of at least one third of the Parties to consider and adopt amendments to the present Convention. Such amendments shall be adopted by a two-thirds majority of Parties present and voting. For these purposes “Parties present and voting” means Parties present and casting an affirmative or negative vote. Parties abstaining from voting shall not be counted among the two-thirds required for adopting an amendment.
2 There have been two such extraordinary meetings of the CoP. The first extraordinary meeting was held in Bonn on 22 June 1979, where the CoP adopted the “financial amendment” to Article XI.3 (a). The second extraordinary meeting of the CoP took place in Gaborone, Botswana, on 30 April 1983, at which the CoP adopted an amendment to Article XXI regulating the accession to the Convention by regional economic integration organizations.
3 This interpretation is also supported by The Evolution of CITES, Willem Wijnstekers, 2018 11th Edition Chapter 32 – Amendments to the Convention at page 513.
4 Resolutions include recommendations on how to interpret the provisions of the Convention, the establishment of the permanent committees, the budgets of the Secretariat, rules for controlling the trade (such as issuing permits and marking specimens in trade), and the texts establishing long-term processes, such as the Review of Significant Trade and making Non-Detriment Findings. Resolutions are typically intended to remain in effect for a long period.