US, UK agree to end illegal wildlife trade


In recent months, the “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom has come under intense scrutiny. Much has been written about the fraying of the alliance and the alleged personality differences between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Joe Biden.

Johnson’s visit to the White House should dispel these notions.

The increasingly complex geopolitics of the next decade demand that the alliance between UK and US governments, business and nonprofit sectors only deepen.

While Washington and London have distinct interests and unique strengths, these should be seen as complementary.

An existing avenue of partnership which can only be strengthened is the fight against illegal trafficking in wild species. The kleptocracy, habitat destruction and transnational criminal activity behind illegal wildlife trafficking is a common threat to UK and US policymakers.

Fortunately, US and UK law enforcement, private business leaders and nonprofit stakeholders work daily to disrupt transnational criminal organizations that profit from illegal wildlife trafficking. Along with illicit shipments of arms and drugs, illegal wildlife trafficking is incredibly lucrative for transnational criminal organizations. Often run by highly organized criminal networks, the value of the illicit global enterprise is estimated to be as high as $ 175 billion annually..

While the effects of illegal wildlife trafficking run deep, there are a surprisingly small number of transnational criminal organizations with the logistical and financial capacity to move illicit goods between continents. The smuggling of wildlife involves an identifiable set of bureaucratic activities that leave usable evidence behind.

For this reason, five years ago the Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, summoned executives from major UK and US banking and transport companies. The private sector has often been unintentionally involved in the trafficking of illegal wildlife products, such as ivory, rhino horn and pangolin scales.

The aim of this collaboration has been to examine the entire chain of illegal wildlife trade. It has been crucial to combine the weight of the UK and US law enforcement and intelligence perspectives with the unique capabilities of the private sector. By forming transatlantic partnerships with businesses, not only iconic species can be saved, but criminal enterprises that also traffic in arms, drugs and people can be disrupted.

A new collaboration started this year. Congress passed the American Rescue Plan earlier this year, which allocated an additional $ 105 million to the annual operating budget of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. This will allow other Fish and Wildlife Service professionals to work overseas alongside their UK counterparts in particularly high traffic areas. This sent a clear message that zoonoses and illegal wildlife trade pose a threat to national and international security. Additionally, it has reinforced the fact that law enforcement – especially the Fish and Wildlife Service – has an important role to play in preventing future pandemics. The bill provided for a $ 45 million appropriation for the Fish and Wildlife Service to develop an early detection and rapid response system. It will be triggered when outbreaks of wildlife diseases occur anywhere in the world. As this system develops, coordination with UK stakeholders will be crucial.

The Obama and Trump administrations have worked to make wildlife trafficking a serious crime through executive orders and other policy initiatives. Indeed, President BidenJoe BidenFighter escorts planes that entered restricted airspace at UN rally Julian Castro hits out at Biden administration over refugee policy FBI investigates alleged assault on Fort Bliss soldier in an Afghan refugee camp MORE enacted the Wildlife Trafficking Elimination, Disruption and Disruption (NDT) Act, which directs the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Home Secretary and the Secretary of Commerce, to submit to the Congress an annual report identifying countries of particular concern. The Trump administration has used immigration and nationality law to ban travel to immediate family members of those suspected of being complicit in illegal wildlife trafficking.

As the Biden and Johnson administrations are committed to deepening their collaboration, they should jointly build on these recent initiatives. Working together, it will support new and innovative ways to save iconic species, fight corruption, put crime lords behind bars and prevent future zoonotic pandemics.

Tim Wittig, Ph.D., previously worked at US Africa Command (AFRICOM). He is director of intelligence for Focused Conservation Solutions, a Florida-based nonprofit.

Ari Mittleman is Policy Advisor for Focused Conservation Solutions.


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