Telephonic Media Briefing with Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Catherine Novelli

March 3, 2016


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OPERATOR: And welcome to the World Wildlife Day briefing. At this time all lines are in a listen-only mode and later we will conduct a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question on today’s conference you can press * then 1 on your touchtone phone at any time. And as a reminder, today’s conference is being recorded. I would now like to turn the conference over to Cynthia Gire with the Office of International Media Engagement with the Department of State. Please go ahead.

MODERATOR: Thank you and greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Office of International Media Engagement. I would like to welcome our journalists who have dialed in from throughout the Asia Pacific. Today, we are joined by Catherine Novelli, Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment here at the U.S. Department of State. Under Secretary Novelli will discuss the U.S. government’s efforts to raise awareness about the threat of wildlife trafficking. I appreciate all of you taking time out of your day to participate in the briefing. The Under Secretary will be speaking to us today from Washington, DC.

Under Secretary Novelli will begin with opening remarks. We will then open it up to your questions. And with that, I will turn it over to the Under Secretary Novelli.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well thanks very much Cynthia and good morning to everybody, evening my time. And in your day it’s already World Wildlife Day and so I’m very pleased that you’ve joined me to talk about wildlife trafficking today. This is an issue that affects all of us and it is something that is really deserving of all of our attention. Because we are in a situation right now where there are many, many animals that are on the verge of extinction. And the amount of killing of these animals has gone up dramatically in the last five years.

So we are really trying to lift up this problem to the public so that they can understand that there is a very bad cycle of relations between those who are demanding the products and the poachers who are illegally killing these animals and trafficking them and that this doesn’t just affect the animals but it has a very detrimental effect on society as well because it is something that is linked now to transnational organized crime including the same kind of people who are trafficking weapons, drugs, money and even people. And they are making money from this and they’re using that to fund their other illegal activities.

It’s also causing grave problems in Africa where those who could be making their livelihoods through tourism are being robbed of that opportunity as well. And of course most importantly we have species of animals like the Central African Forest Elephant that will be extinct within the next decade, if we don’t take actions. And just a few other statistics with regard to that, the size of the Central African Forest Elephant, in Mozambique, the elephant population has fallen by 50 percent in the last five years. Now these Desert Elephants are on the verge of extinction and the decrease in the elephants in Tanzania has been by 60 percent over the last five years.

So you know the elephant populations are hurting. Even more dire is what’s going on with rhinoceros. Rhinoceros are being killed for their horns and some have tried to suggest that rhinoceros horns have some sort of magical healing powers. And in fact, rhinoceros horns are made of the same substance that is in your fingernails. And so for those who think their fingernails have magical healing powers, then there’s an alternative to rhinoceros horns. And what happens is people are killing the animals to remove their horns and we are now in a place where we have very few rhinoceros left in the wild and we’re looking at having none in the next several years.

So these are things that are on the Continent of Africa. On the Asian Continent, pangolins are the world’s most trafficked mammal. And over the last 10 years, about a million pangolins were taken from the wild. And so we feel like we really need to try to tackle this problem. And we need to do it together. It’s not just something the United States is trying to do by itself. We have worked very closely with our counterparts throughout Asia. And of note, in the last year, we made great progress in partnering with China. And in fact, in September, President Xi Jinping and President Obama issued a joint statement in which they each committed to enacting nearly complete bans on ivory and the import and export of ivory as well as halting the domestic commercial trade in ivory.

And this is a huge step forward. We see that as a result of this, the price of ivory in China has dropped by half. And we’re hoping that the ban will decrease even further as a result of this. We’ve also agreed with China to work together in third countries to help with the poaching itself and so we’re going to be working in Mozambique and in Kenya together in anti-poaching efforts and we have also already worked together before on anti-poaching efforts. Similarly, there are a great many things that are going on in the Asia Pacific Region. ASEAN ministers have already agreed to make wildlife trafficking a priority for the member states there. We have worked very closely with Malaysia on orangutans as well, the APEC, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, the G7, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, have all agreed to take steps to fight wildlife trafficking.

And we are committed both from the use of our law enforcement, technical assistance and even financial assistance to really try to ramp up activity to make a difference in the problem so that we can preserve the opportunity for these animals to exist in the wild and the opportunity for those who live in those areas to benefit from ecotourism that can occur because of those animals being present. So we know that this is an uphill battle but we are determined to continue it and that is why we had events tonight at the State Department where we brought together filmmakers and others who are communicating with the public to talk about what are the best ways that we can do that so that we can decrease the demand for these products, which then also decreases the need for poachers, decreases the market for poachers.

So I think I will stop there. The only other thing that I would add is that tomorrow we are going to be issuing our first report that details the work that we have been doing since President Obama issued an executive order asking for a whole of government approach to wildlife trafficking. And so we’re going to be issuing this report, the Presidential Task Force on Combatting Wildlife Trafficking will issue it, explaining what progress we’ve made in trying to implement this and of course we’ll be doing that same kind of accounting every year to explain where were and then where we have come.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: I’m happy to take questions.

MODERATOR: We’ll now begin --

OPERATOR: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Under Secretary Novelli. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s events. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to today’s topic, wildlife trafficking and World Wildlife Day. With that, I will remind you to press *1 to join the question queue. You need to press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. And with that we will start with our first question from Nisi Delfal from Cambodia, Mai Mai News. Can we please open his mic?

QUESTION: Hello? Hello?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Yes, we can hear you.

MODERATOR: Yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, okay, okay thank you. Good morning, Under Secretary. My name -- I am from Cambodia and I have a question because there was a report last year showing that there was a broker made by Cambodia allow them to take hold of the ivory trade and ivory trade declined significantly and is no longer an issue in Cambodia unlike the neighboring country like Myanmar, Vietnam or Thailand or something. So how do you see this kind of broker made by NGO Cambodia and my question also, want to talk to you, what the US will build to support Cambodian also and are working on tackling the wildlife trafficking and other things and all to combat and also to make sure that wildlife trafficking will be eliminated in the future, thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well thank you for that question and I would say I think, you know, the NGO community can play a very important role in assisting with efforts to combat wildlife trafficking. In a number of countries, the NGO community can help actually monitor what is happening and sort of trace things, what’s going on in Africa, all the way through the shipment to what’s landing in any given country and alert authorities that something illicit is going on so that the criminals can be apprehended. So we think the NGO community is very important for that kind of roll-up-your-sleeves involvement. It’s also important as a way of highlighting publically the plight of these animals and the fact that what happens when you actually use ivory or rhino horns that that animal itself is actually being killed for that.

Interestingly there was a survey done and it was determined that about 80 percent of people were not aware that you had to actually kill the elephant or the rhino to get their tusks or their horns. So I think raising public awareness is very important. And then with regard to efforts that the Cambodian government has made, I think that, you know it is a wonderful thing when governments decide that they are going to make this a priority. And I will say I think that this problem is a very complicated one and it is one that spans different boundaries. And so to the extent that Cambodia found a way to really limit or potentially eliminate trafficking of wildlife products, one thing that could be a very useful thing is for Cambodian authorities to work with others in the region to explain how they managed to do that as far as that kind of technical assistance.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And just a reminder, to press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. You need to press *1 on your phone to join the question queue. Our next question comes from Kyoto News in Japan.

QUESTION: Yes, my name is (unintelligible - 14:03) can you hear me?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Yes.

QUESTION: Yes, I actually have two questions. And you know the fact this Washington convention may have been coming in this September in South Africa and what the US government is trying to do for this conference and form this issue and do you have any plan to supplement some kind of (unintelligible - 14:26) for the confidence and that’s my first question.

And my second question is we, still in Japan, we still have ivory, domestic ivory market. How do you see Japanese market and this government regulation and do you see what we can do for the crackdown illegal trade of ivory in domestically. That’s my second question. Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Okay, well, let me start with your second question. With regard to the trade in ivory, we have concluded -- even though CITES actually says that you can sell ivory that’s from the stock that you had at the time CITES went into effect. What we have determined and the reason why we have initiated a ban and why China is also going to be doing that is because it’s become very clear that these stockpiles are being used to kind of launder new ivory. And it is very, very difficult to maintain discipline over these stockpiles and that is why we have decided and the Chinese have decided to just say we are not going to have any more domestic sales of ivory.

Because what’s happening is, folks are continuing to kill elephants for their tusks. They’re bringing that and that becomes part of the domestic stockpile in a surreptitious way and then ivory is sold out of there and folks say oh well that’s old ivory but it actually really isn’t. And so I guess my -- when you say well what can be done that’s going to be effective, I do believe that just eliminating the domestic sale of ivory is the most effective way to deal with this issue. Just, it’s very, very difficult to maintain these stockpiles though technically CITES does allow them.

With regard to CITES, you know CITES has a number of committees that are going to be discussing a number of issues and says oh, you know, I’m happy to get you more detailed information on all of the various committees and you know our plans for dealing with those. That’s not something I have at my fingertips right now.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Vietnam, San Yen Media and just a reminder to press *1 if you’d like to join the question queue. We’ll now go to Vietnam.

QUESTION: I have a question, you mentioned the effort of Cambodian governments in CITES benefits. So how about Vietnam? What’s your comment on the Vietnamese government’s cooperation, because in Vietnam it’s still (unintelligible - 17:40) wild animals as food and (unintelligible - 17:46). So I want you to tell me if the Vietnamese government really wants to take action in wildlife’s protection. Because recently they have standard relating to big corporation. They (unintelligible - 18:10) and activist in Vietnam they are (unintelligible - 18:19) because came out of many animals but the government still pilots about this.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well you know with regard to Vietnam, what I would say is, it is, Vietnam is still a place where there is a large demand for trade in rhino horn in particular as well as ivory and you know this presents a great many challenges. And one of the reasons why we are doing the events that we’re doing in the US and our embassy is doing events in Vietnam as well and we hope that other events are occurring in Vietnam is to raise awareness among the population in Vietnam that these uses of animals are killing the animals and they’re killing the animals that are endangered. And so obviously the long-term solution here has got to be both enforcement as well as reducing demand. And this is something that we are working with the Vietnamese government on. There still is a lot of work to be done and you know, we will continue to work together with the government as is useful for the government.

And I think that the reducing demand piece is also very, very important.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from China, the China Review.

QUESTION: My name is Rita and my question is that the US/China strategy in economic dialog in 2015 inside the wildlife trafficking part and Under Secretary Novelli also talked about the cooperation with China and the United States and I just wanted to ask if there are any specific results that we have achieved so far and what we can do in 2016.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: Well sure, well so interestingly, as I had said, just the announcement that President Xi Jinping made and President Obama made that each of us in our own countries was going to end the commercial sale of ivory, had a huge impact on the price of ivory, of elephant ivory. In China it cut the price in half. And that was just dramatic. Because what happens when the price gets lower, there is less incentive for poachers to kill elephants. They can’t make as much money off of it.

So just the announcement itself has had a great impact. You know the Chinese government is actually now drafting the regulations that are going to implement that ban. We’ve been in close discussion with the government as it goes through that. And we are expecting that at the next S&ED meeting this summer is that we will continue to have a formal discussion about where we are now, both the US in implementing its ban, China in implementing its, as well as the cooperation that we’ve agreed to undertake in third countries to deal with the poaching itself and the transit of these products.

So we are expecting a very true partnership and a very ongoing one because you know these problems aren’t going to be solved in a day or a year. But we do feel like we’re making some progress now.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Under Secretary Novelli. I know that we don’t have much time left. I’d like to thank you again for taking the time to speak with us today and ask if you have any final words before we close the call?

UNDER SECRETARY NOVELLI: I think my final words would be that this is a problem that all humanity faces and will only be solved if all of us humans protect the animals that are put on this earth and work together to make sure that that occurs.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much and thanks to all of our callers for participating in today’s call. If you have any questions about the call, please contact me at girecl@state.gov and that concludes today’s call. I will turn it back over to the operator.