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Legally Binding Agreements

Although there is no single legally binding global convention that governs sustainable forest management, a number of legally binding agreements have an effect on the management of forest resources and trade of forest products.For the United States, becoming party to a convention is a two-step process. First, the President must sign the convention, and second, the Senate must ratify the convention into law.

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Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
Adopted in 1973, CITES was established to control or stop the trade of endangered species. Initially addressing species such as elephants, rhinos, and crocodiles, the mandate of the convention has subsequently expanded to include plant and animal species. The United States is a party to the convention.

CITES operates by placing species on one of three Appendices, with varying degrees of protection. Appendices I and II require approval by the Parties to the Convention. Appendix I offers the highest level of protection, for highly endangered species, by limiting trade in these species to that for scientific or conservation purposes. Appendix II regulates all global trade and requires scientific findings that the production, harvesting, and trade of listed species are sustainable. Native species can be unilaterally listed by a country on Appendix III, which requires that any traded shipments are from legally harvested sources.

In recent years, proposals to regulate trade in commercial timber species under Appendix II of the Convention have generated interest and some controversy. In 2002, big leaf mahogany became the first heavily traded timber species to be placed on Appendix II, and in 2004, ramin trees from Southeast Asia received a similar level of protection.

The brochure on CITES and the wood products trade is available online in four languages and in both PC and Mac versions. The brochure provides information on how trade is regulated by CITES.

For more information on this brochure, please visit the US Fish & Wildlife Service website.

(The following files are in PDF format, and may be viewed with Adobe Acrobat Reader) If you are having trouble downloading these files, please contact us.

  • English:
    - Brochure: PC , Mac
    - Insert (for english version only): PC , Mac
    -Jewel Case insert (for english version only): PC , Mac

  • Francais: PC , Mac
  • Portuguese: PC , Mac
  • Espagnol: PC , Mac

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International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA)
Adopted in 1983 and extended in 1994, the ITTA commodity agreement focuses on promoting the sustainable management of tropical timber producing forests and the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed forests. Unlike some other commodity agreements, the ITTA has neither price regulation mechanisms nor market intervention provisions. Instead, the agreement relies on consensus decisions of its membership and financial support to concrete projects to promote sound policy and implementation of sustainable forest management in the tropics. The ITTA was renegotiated in 2006, and to date is still undergoing approval/ratification by individual member states before it can enter into force. ITTA, 2006 has an expanded scope, with provisions for work in the following areas: addressing illegal logging; information sharing on voluntary mechanisms to promote SFM; facilitating understanding of non-timber forest products and environmental services; and encouraging the role of forest dependent indigenous communities in the SFM of tropical timber producing forests.

The operational and implementation mechanism of the agreement is the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO), a commodity organization that brings together countries that produce and consume tropical timber in order to discuss and exchange information and develop policies on all aspects of the world tropical timber economy. The organization’s work is guided by overarching goals outlined in the ITTA, as well as an action plan. The Action Plan is an elaborated strategy of substantive areas of work and cross-cutting actions that is aimed at achieving ITTO’s objectives. ITTO’s programs integrate both policy and project work, directed at improving understanding and awareness of key and emerging issues in three principal areas of economic information and market intelligence; reforestation and forest management; and forest industry.

Policy decisions of the ITTO are debated, negotiated, and approved through consensus of members at the ITTO council sessions. Policy decisions direct the programmatic and project work of the organization, as well as inform and build capacity within member states to address cutting-edge issues such as phased approaches to certification, criteria and indicators, and reduced-impact logging. ITTO’s project work is a primary means of assisting member countries to implement these policy initiatives.

The United States is one of the major donors of projects under the ITTO. The U.S. has supported numerous projects in tropical timber producing countries, including pilot and demonstration projects, human and technical capacity-building projects, and research and development.

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United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
Adopted in 1994, the UNFCCC calls on countries to control greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. The United States is a party to the convention and therefore submits annual national inventory reports documenting changes in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and carbon stocks, including forests. U.S. scientists, including researchers from the Forest Service, also participate in the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which serves as an advisory body to the Convention.

The Kyoto Protocol, which the United States has not ratified, was negotiated in December 1997, making specific reference to forests as sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases and calling for promotion of sustainable forest management practices, afforestation and reforestation. The Kyoto Protocol went into force in February 2005. According to the Kyoto Protocol, verifiable changes in carbon stocks that are related to direct human induced land-use change and forestry activities, including afforestation, reforestation and deforestation since 1990, may optionally be included in the developed country accounting towards their agreed targets. In addition, there are additional sections of the Protocol setting out the rules for how actions assisting Developing Countries manage their forests. Among the most controversial elements related to land-use change were that reductions in deforestations do not qualify for credit under the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism, and concerns that land-use activities may be used as an excuse for continued industrial emissions.

In 2005, a number of countries have began an informal discussions on how land-use and forestry could be better addressed by any future agreement, given that the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. In 2007, this resulted in a new action plan agreed in Bali , Indonesia which started formal negotiations for a post-2012 agreement, including a new effort to more comprehensively include reductions in deforestation, forest degradation and forest conservation. Negotiations on the new agreement are scheduled to conclude by December 2009.

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Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro , world leaders agreed on a comprehensive strategy for sustainable development, including establishment of a convention to protect the biological diversity of the planet. Adopted in 1994, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) establishes three main goals: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. Although former President Clinton signed the convention in 1994, the US Senate has not ratified the CBD. As a result, the United States has observer status in the forum, which now has 188 contracting parties. The U.S. supports the work of the CBD and is actively involved in Convention meetings, advisory scientific groups, special programs and initiatives, as well as in a number of expert groups supporting the work of the Convention.

At the sixth meeting of the CBD Conference of Parties in 2002, an "Expanded Program of Work for Forest Biological Diversity" was adopted, calling on countries to integrate biological diversity considerations into their forest management systems and programs


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Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD)
Adopted in 1994, the CCD calls on countries to combat the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. The United States is party to the convention.

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Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar)
Adopted in 1971, Ramsar provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The United States is party to the convention. Originally negotiated to conserve and wisely use wetlands to preserve waterfowl habitat, the Ramsar convention has broadened to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use. Ramsar was the first of the modern global intergovernmental conventions on conservation and wise use of natural resources, and its provisions remain relatively straightforward and general compared to more recent conventions.

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Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds
A bilateral convention between the United States and Canada adopted in 1916, the Convention for the Protection of Migratory Birds was negotiated to protect and provide for the preservation of migratory birds that traverse Canada and the United States, recognizing that the conservation of these birds is a joint responsibility of the two countries. Among other things, it created a uniform system of protection by establishing a Canada-United States closed season on the hunting of migratory game birds such as ducks and geese. Also as a result of this convention, hunting of non-game migratory species is effectively banned throughout the year. The United States also has bilateral conventions for the protection of migratory birds with Russia, Japan, and Mexico.

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