On 8th June 2020, Việt Nam’s National Assembly approved an EU- Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) that has opened a new era in Intergovernmental Cooperation on Animal Welfare and Wildlife Protection. This agreement has a strong potential to promote wildlife protection and enhance international cooperation on animal welfare particularly farm animals. On this occasion, the Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine (VEM) has an open talk on this topic with Mrs. Thẩm Hồng Phượng - the Director of Humane Society International (HSI)/Vietnam.
Mrs. Thẩm Hồng Phượng - the Director of Humane Society International (HSI)/Vietnam
VEM: Please let us know what key areas of animal welfare and wildlife protection are mentioned in the EVFTA?
Mrs. Thẩm Hồng Phượng: The EU and Việt Nam signed a Trade Agreement and an Investment Protection Agreement on 30th June 2019 after many negotiation rounds. The Council of the European Union approved the Agreement on 30th March 2020 after the European Parliament gave its consent on 12th February 2020. Afterward, the EVFTA was approved by Vietnam’s National Assembly on June 8th 2020 and entered into force on August 1st 2020. The main objectives of these two agreements focus on the economic integration of Việt Nam with the European Union and vice versa. As a result, content relating to wildlife protection and animal welfare are relatively minor "bullet points" within what is a huge content frame of the whole Agreement.
While wildlife protection is referenced in Chapter 13: Trade and Sustainable Development, animal welfare or the humane treatment of animals is mentioned in Chapter 16 regarding Cooperation and Capacity Building. In Chapter 13, the specific aims are to facilitate commitments on the proper implementation and enforcement of multilateral environmental agreements; provisions aimed at protecting biodiversity and reducing illegal wildlife trade through information exchange on strategies, policy initiatives, programmes, action plans and consumer awareness campaigns; and a commitment to enhance cooperation to increase species protection through proposing new CITES listings.
Points d and f of Clause 3 of Article 13.7 about Biodiversity clearly state respectively: “Adopt and implement appropriate effective measures, which are consistent with its commitments under international treaties to which it is a party, leading to a reduction of illegal trade in wildlife, such as awareness raising campaigns, monitoring and enforcement measures” and “enhance cooperation with the other Party, as appropriate, to propose new animal and plant species to be included in Appendices I and II to the CITES”. Point j, of Clause 1 of Article 13.14 about Working together on trade and sustainable development, shows that“trade-related measures to promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, including the mapping, assessment and valuation of ecosystems and their services and to combat illegal international trade in wildlife”.
Both Parties expressed the commitment in implement animal welfare, referred to the Article 16.3: “The Parties agree to cooperate on animal welfare as necessary, including technical assistance and capacity building for the development of animal welfare standards. For the purpose of this Article, they shall consult the Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures established pursuant to Article 17.2 (Specialized Committees)”.
In fact, the EU and Việt Nam have cooperated in wildlife protection for a period of time. For example, in 2019, the EU and Việt Nam submitted a number of joint proposals uplisting several reptile and amphibian species to the Appendix of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. It also includes so-called "look-alike species", i.e. species whose specimens in trade look like those of species listed for conservation reasons. International trade in specimens of Appendix-II species may be authorized by the granting of an export permit or re-export certificate. No import permit is necessary for these species under CITES (although a permit is needed in some countries that have taken stricter measures than CITES requires). Permits or certificates should only be granted if the relevant authorities are satisfied that certain conditions are met, above all that trade will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. (See Article IV of the Convention). When the EVFTA comes into force, it creates great opportunities for Việt Nam to improve its limited enforcement capacity to combat the illegal wildlife trade across country boundaries and protect endangered species.
VEM: What are the benefits of the National Assembly’s approval for wildlife protection and biodiversity conservation?
Mrs. Thẩm Hồng Phượng: In fact, Việt Nam continues to serve as a source, consumer and transit country for the illegal wildlife trade. HSI/Vietnam hopes that, throughout the proper implementation of this trade deal and cooperation development, the EU will be able to assist with reducing demand for wildlife products and increasing our Government’s enforcement capacity with the training and tools it needs to tackle the scourge of wildlife trafficking. Conserving threatened species will be improved and the illegal trade in wildlife at national and international/regional levels will be prevented, with these issues handled more transparently and strictly. The Agreement ratification will provide the greatest opportunity for Law enforcement agencies and relevant authorities and officials to enhance their limited enforcement capacity through training courses, accessing the tools to combat wildlife crime and techniques and skills to rescue animals. Moreover, this Agreement will open financial support opportunities for relevant stakeholders in Việt Nam to better manage wild animals and identify and deter sophisticated tricks by transnational crime.
Wildlife trafficking not only poses a threat to biodiversity and natural habitats, but, as the recent COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, the trade in wildlife can also pose a serious threat to public health. It was technically already illegal to sell and consume wild-caught species in Việt Nam, but the existing rules were poorly enforced and wet markets selling wildlife have proliferated. Such challenges are not resolved at grass-root level in a short time. It is crucial to cooperate between inter-agencies, civil society organizations (CSOs), the private sector and the public. As such, the entry into force of the EVFTA Agreement is a tipping point for businesses on both sides (EU and Việt Nam) to make strong commitments to fulfill corporate social responsibility (CSR) in protecting wildlife, biodiversity and the environment.
Specifically, to deal with the unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic, on July 23rd, 2020, the Prime Minister issued Directive No.29/CT-TTg on a number of urgent solutions to manage wildlife that demonstrates the strong commitment of the Government to combat wildlife crime. This Directive once again highlights key issues in wildlife management that need to improve in the foreseeable future such as: Improving enforcement capacity in terms of preventing and combating illegal wildlife trade in Việt Nam; Reducing the risk of pathogen transmission from wet markets, commercial wildlife farms and the import of wildlife specimens; Having a clear and specific protocol or mechanism to deal with wildlife consumption.
I hope that the entry into force of this Agreement will help the enforcement agencies and relevant authorities overcome major obstacles such as a lack of financial resources and shortage of equipment to identify commonly traded species, establish gene banks, rescue animals and trace the seized animals’ origin, as well as for transparent and effective inter-agency coordination mechanisms and sharing of information among countries... in order to better prevent wildlife trafficking.
VEM: Can you please highlight HSI’s achievements to protect wild animals in Việt Nam?
Mrs. Thẩm Hồng Phượng: HSI works around the globe to promote the human-animal bond, rescue and protect dogs and cats, improve farm animal welfare, protect wildlife, promote animal-free testing and research, respond to natural disasters and confront cruelty to animals in all of its forms. HSI not only takes care of animals in need of help, but is also a leader in helping to change laws and corporate policy to prevent cruelty to animals, end suffering and save lives.
In Việt Nam, HSI campaigns to help the greatest possible number of animals and to save those who are suffering from the most severe abuse. We invest our time, efforts and resources in ways that will make a real difference. We are currently operating several programs in Việt Nam: Farm Animal Protection (FAP); Companion Animal Protection, Be Cruelty Free (to end cosmetics animal testing) and Wild Animal Protection programs. Our FAP work focuses on public advocacy for a healthier, more sustainable and compassionate/humane lifestyle in order to reduce harmful impacts on the environment and animal welfare. HSI engages a range of different stakeholders including farmers, agri-business companies, governments, food retailers and consumers to improve farm animal welfare, with a special focus on ending the confinement of egg laying hens in battery cages and the confinement of breeding sows in gestation crates. The focus of our Companion Animal Protection work is ending the illegal trade, slaughter and consumption of dogs and cats. Additionally, in partnership with other NGOs and relevant authorities/agencies, HSI aims to implement a joint program to reduce and control rabies transmisstion to the local communities. A relatively new and innovative initative that HSI is implementing in Việt Nam is a communication and advocacy the campaign “Be Cruelty Free” to end the cruelty of testing cosmetics on animals. This Campaign is to encourage the public to choose cruelty-free products and inspire them to care for/love animals.
Our Wild Animal Protection program in Việt Nam was launched in August 2013 and since then HSI has achieved encouraging successes including a Government-led rhino horn demand reduction campaign implemented by HSI and Việt Nam CITES Management Authority under Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. This multi-faceted campaign has reached an estimated 37 million people - approximately one third of the national population.
With HSI’s support, Việt Nam held an event in November 2016 at which - for the first time in the country’s history - more than two tons of ivory, 70 kg of rhino horn, and other seized wildlife specimens were destroyed to send a message to the international community that these live animals are valued more than the products derived from them. This was also an inspiring event for many enforcement authorities and prosecution agencies that would later boldly destroy these seemingly valuable items.
VEM: Please share with us your opinions about which feasible solutions are needed to help Việt Nam properly implement its commitments in the EVFTA?
Mrs. Thẩm Hồng Phượng: As mentioned above, obstacles for wildlife conservation include, but are not limited to, a shortage of capable personnel and financial resources, poor enforcement capacity, unclear cooperation amongst inter-agencies to tackle wildlife trafficking and corruption within the criminal justice system and so on. Therefore, in my opinion, there are some feasible actions that Việt Nam should take to ensure implementing proper commitments under this EVFTA:
(i) Identify and mobilize internal resources to obligate all international commitments to which Viet Nam is a signatory; (ii) strengthen bilateral and multilateral information exchanges in order to increase enforcement capacity, seeking financial and technical resources to overcome challenges in wildlife conservation, as well as combatting illegal wildlife trade such as strengthening deterrence to reduce crime, addressing abuse within the commercial wildlife farming industry or continuing to develop communication campaigns and/or humane education to raise awareness about behavior change to reduce demand for wildlife production/ consumption and (iii) last but not least is to cooperate amongst inter-nations or inter-continents/regions in order to better protect endangered species and conserve biodiversity.
VEM: Sincerely thank you!
Nguyễn Hằng (Implemented)
(Nguồn: Bài đăng trên tạp chí Môi trường số Chuyên đề Tiếng Anh III/2020)