Operator: Standing by. Welcome to the World Wildlife Day teleconference. At this time, everyone joining by telephone is in a listen-only or muted mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. If you need operator assistance, press star (*) then 0 on your telephone keypad. As a reminder, this conference call is being recorded. I will now turn the meeting over to our host, Ms Gire, with the US Department of State Office of International Media Engagement. Please go ahead.
Ms Gire: Thank you, and greetings to everyone from the US Department of State’s Office of International Media Engagement. I would like to welcome our journalists who have dialed in from throughout the Asian Pacific. Today, we are joined by Daniel Foote, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs here at the US Department of State. Deputy Assistant Secretary Foote will discuss the US Government’s efforts to combat wildlife trafficking around the world. I appreciate all of you taking your time out of today to participate in the briefing. Deputy Assistant Secretary Foote will be speaking to us today from Washington, D.C. He will begin with opening remarks. We will then open it up to your questions. With that, I will turn it over to the Deputy Assistant Secretary.
DAS Foote: Thank you, Cindy, and let me take this opportunity to welcome all of you. It’s a great pleasure and an honor to have the opportunity to talk to you today. I want to thank you all for coming together pretty early, your time, to join this call. It’s still only March 2nd here in Washington, D.C., so I look forward to recognizing the importance of World Wildlife Day now with you and again, tomorrow, here in the United States.
I’d like to take this opportunity to discuss the importance of combating the bloody crime of wildlife trafficking, both in your region, and around the globe. Wildlife trafficking is a transnational crime that has devastating effects on ecosystems and societies. It pushes species to the brink of extinction, restricts economic development, threatens security, gives strength and money to violent criminals, and undermines rule of law. Unfortunately, wildlife crime is often treated solely as a conservation issue. It is, in fact, a serious crime, from which transnational criminal syndicates derive substantial profits to fund their illicit activities, fueling corruption, violence, and instability. Illegal wildlife products are among the top 5 most lucrative trafficked, illegal goods today, with this form of trade estimated at $10 billion a year or more. Asia is no stranger to this problem with illicit ivory, pangolin scales, and other wildlife products transiting through your ports and across your borders.
Since 2014, the United States has been a leader in the global effort to combat wildlife trafficking. Our overall national efforts fall within 3 pillars, and they are:
1. Strengthening law enforcement,
2. Reducing demand, and
3. Expanding international cooperation.
The Department of State plays an important role in US efforts to strengthen global enforcement, and we work closely with other key partners in the US government to ensure an effective, whole-of-government response on all 3 of these pillars. My office at the State Department, as Cindy said, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, is using the experience we have developed working with the international law enforcement and criminal justice communities over the past 40 years on different forms of crime, particularly narcotics trafficking, to help counter wildlife trafficking.
Our main lines of efforts include strengthening legislative frameworks with our partner nations, enhancing investigative and law enforcement functions, building prosecutorial and judicial capacity, and strengthening cross-border cooperation. The expertise and resources we bring to partner countries to help them counter drug trafficking have proven to be equally beneficial in confronting networks trafficking in other illicit goods, including wildlife. In Southeast Asia, specifically, we provide training and technical assistance of legal reform, investigative and prosecutorial capacity, and building regional cooperation to go after wildlife traffickers. As this crime is inherently transnational, with the traffickers not respecting borders, our response must also be international. No country can be effective in tackling this scourge on its own. The State Department runs regional programs throughout your region of the world, as well as country-specific programs in Indonesia and Burma. We oversee the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, which trains prosecutors, police, judges, and other justice sector actors on tactics for combating wildlife trafficking. With that, I want you all to know how much I am looking forward to our discussion today, and we’ll turn it back over to Cindy so we can start to take your questions.
Ms Gire: Thank you. We will now being the question-and-answer portion of today’s event. For those asking questions, please state your name and affiliation, and limit yourself to one question related to today’s topic, wildlife trafficking and World Wildlife Day. Questions must be related to the topic at hand, wildlife trafficking and World Wildlife Day. With that, I’ll remind you to press Star-1 (*-1) on your phone to join the question queue. You need to press Star-1 (*-1) on your phone to join the question queue.
OK, we’ll go with the first question, which is, “How does your bureau in the State Department prioritize Southeast Asia when it comes to wildlife trafficking?”
DAS Foote: OK, well that’s an excellent question, with which to start off. Obviously, Southeast Asia is a major source destination and transit region for the illegal trade in wildlife. Southeast Asian ports and their often-porous borders serve as principal transit points for trafficked goods bound for markets in East Asia, China, Vietnam, and other regional states, which drive global demand for elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, and other animal products for use in traditional medicine or as symbols of status for a growing middle class. Our resources and efforts have grown significantly over the past 5 years and our major focus is in 3 areas, and they are Southeast Asia, Africa, and then a regional focus.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our next question comes from Thailand, The Bangkok Post. Please go ahead.
Reporter: Hi, I am from the Bangkok Post. I understand that President Trump withdraw the TPP, which included punishment for illegal wildlife trafficking. How much would that affect the international cooperation, especially the country that are from this pact? Thank you.
DAS Foote: So I think I heard you correct. You were talking about the TPP and a provision for censuring illegal wildlife profiting. Is that kind of right?
DAS Foote: OK. Well, unfortunately the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not my area of expertise, but what I can tell you is even before our new presidential administration took office, wildlife trafficking has been an issue with strong bipartisan support across both of our major parties here. In late last year, 2016, the End Wildlife Trafficking Act, which institutionalizes a multi-agency task force into law, was signed unanimously by Congress, and recently, within the last month, President Trump signed an Executive Order to strengthen enforcement to target transnational criminal organizations to explicitly include wildlife traffickers. So, from these combined actions, we’re confident that combating wildlife trafficking will continue to be of strong interest to the US Government moving forward.
Reporter: Thank you.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our next question comes from Singapore, The Straits Times, and just a reminder to press Star-1 (*-1) on your phone to join the question queue. Please go ahead, The Straits Times.
Reporter: Hi, yeah, I’m calling from The Straits Times in Singapore. I am reassured about how the US has certain initiatives with countries in this region. I just wondered if – to check whether the US has any such initiatives here in Singapore?
DAS Foote: Well, that’s a good question, and I went through before this, looking at all the explicit initiatives we have in the region. Many of them are done through ASEAN, and I’m not an expert in the region, but is Singapore a member of ASEAN? I don’t think it is, is it?
Reporter: Yes, it is.
DAS Foote: It is.
DAS Foote: OK, so if it is, we do a few different things in coordination with ASEAN. We do a training program for law enforcement to use as a key model in regions throughout Southeast Asia. It’s designed to enhance capacity of law enforcement by strengthening your country’s legislative frameworks and provide real-time assistance for front-line enforcement agencies to promote intelligence-led policing.
If you would like greater detail on exactly what we do in your country, we can give you the contact information for my Public Affairs office and they can give you, perhaps, better detail in a written product afterwards.
Reporter: OK, sure. Thank you.
DAS Foote: Thank you.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our next question comes from Cambodia. Please go ahead.
Reporter: Good morning.
DAS Foote: Good morning.
Reporter: (Inaudible) actually, the fight against wildlife trafficking is not new for the region because and the inaudible) United States has been helping (inaudible) the region as a whole much. Can I know from you how you see the prospect of fighting against wildlife trafficking –is it developing fast or too slow and how do you see the fighting against wildlife trafficking in Cambodia in general. Thank you.
DAS Foote: OK, thank you very much, and another great question. We’ve certainly seen a number of positive developments happening in Southeast Asia. A big positive trend right now in your region is in terms of your countries and your citizens recognizing wildlife trafficking as a serious issue. For one, China recently released an ambitious timetable to close its domestic markets for ivory. If China is able to follow through and enforce this new policy, it will have an enormous impact on the demand market for ivory, as the two largest consumers, China and the United States, will no longer have a legal market. Also, Vietnam hosted the Hanoi International Wildlife Conference last November, and had their first stockpile destruction event, which destroyed over 2 tons of ivory and rhino horn. There have also been a record number of seizures made in the past few months in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam and Cambodia. These are all great things. We’re starting to see a much faster pace of progress. We’ve only been doing this with strong resources and efforts for about 5 years, and over the past year to a year and a half, we’ve really seen things start to move at a much more accelerated pace, but there’s still a long way to go. Customs enforcement must keep up that momentum at their ports and borders to detect illegal shipments. Investigations, arrests, and convictions of the criminal syndicates involved are also desperately needed.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our next question comes from Vietnam, with the Do Thi newspaper. Please go ahead.
DAS Foote: Hello.
Reporter: Can you hear me?
DAS Foote: Yes, I can.
Reporter: OK. Recently, there was an (inaudible) member in Vietnam. (Inaudible) wildlife consumption. There was an entrepreneurship attempt to stop the wildlife trafficking in Vietnam. What is your comment on this move? On this cooperation network on this issue?
DAS Foote: OK, if you could just repeat the original act you mentioned, then I’ll be able to answer your question.
Reporter: On the first of March, on the first March, the first day of our March, the Vietnamese launched the global entrepreneurship network by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and this week, and modern city entrepreneurs have joined this movement to raise the social awareness about the zero-tolerance toward treatment of wildlife consumption. Have you ever heard of this? What is your comment on this?
DAS Foote: OK, now I’m fine to answer it. First of all, we applaud this move. Obviously we’re thrilled that Vietnam is taking this positive step to raise social awareness. One of the difficult issues with wildlife trafficking is many of the end customers and, to some extent, the low-level traffickers aren’t fully aware of the illegality of doing this, so anything that raises social awareness is a positive move. We’ve found fine progress by Vietnam over the past year. We work closely through INTERPOL to support investigative training for police and wildlife officials in Vietnam, and to facilitate regional information sharing with your neighbors to support cooperation and joint operations.
For instance, Vietnam participated, last year, in INTERPOL’s Operation PAWS, which stands for Protection of Asian Wildlife Species. Vietnam’s outstanding results in operation results led to the arrests of seven suspects and the seizure of 22 bear limbs, 1,400 kg of elephant ivory, one frozen tiger, and 6 kg of rhino horn, so we laud Vietnam and the other countries, but specifically Vietnam, for the actions that I just mentioned.
Reporter: Thank you.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our next question comes in from The Borneo Times and his question is, “What do you think about the conservation efforts of Brunei in its wildlife and forests, and are there any improvements that you can see that can help further boost wildlife protection in Brunei and in the region?”
DAS Foote: Well, thank you for the question, and first of all, we want to thank Brunei for all of their efforts that they’re taking on conservation. This is, as I earlier stated, a fairly new law enforcement and conservation issue that we’re taking on here, and all progress is wonderfully positive. One thing that we want to continue to encourage across the globe, and certainly in your region, is increased coordination, communication, and information and intelligence sharing across neighbors in the region, because of the transnational and cross-border nature of this crime, but let me personally thank Brunei for all its wonderful efforts to date and encourage them to continue its focus on this issue.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our next question is from The Straits Times in Singapore. Please go ahead.
Reporter: Hi, I just wanted to check, because in Singapore it seems that we are a big transit port for illegal shipments of wildlife parts, and the measures that you mentioned so far are a lot about the source country, and countries that – where there’s a strong demand for illegal wildlife parts, but as a transit country, what do you think on areas that can be improved on in terms of Singapore tackling the wildlife trade?
DAS Foote: Thank you very much for that question, and obviously in any country, but certainly in transit countries, the investigative capacity of your law enforcement officials, and ability of your prosecutors and your judicial system to prosecute, convict, and incarcerate criminals are important. In transit countries, also, intelligence collection is critical. To deal with your neighbors and share intelligence to find out what is expected to come in via what means is very important. We’ve also, over time, had a lot of success and found that from a deterrent standpoint, that utilizing technologies and intelligence – focused intelligence, things like canines, who are capable of detecting wildlife in containers, and random inspections based on targeting information through shipping companies or airlines, etc. – are very helpful and powerful tools in transiting countries.
Reporter: OK, thank you.
Ms Gire: Thank you. Our final question is from Thailand, The Bangkok Post. Please go ahead.
Reporter: (Inaudible) I have got two small questions here. First is there any particular concern regarding wildlife profiting in Thailand (inaudible) a while ago, and the second one is, do you have any upcoming programs or seminars that help set up (inaudible) between the US and ASEAN in this year? Thank you very much.
DAS Foote: OK, could you go back to your first question, which I didn’t completely hear. I got the second one.
Reporter: OK, sure. At the moment, is there any particular concern regarding wildlife profiting in Thailand? That is my first question.
DAS Foote: Is there concern about wildlife trafficking in Thailand?
Reporter: Yeah. Where ivory is widely available.
DAS Foote: OK. Yeah, obviously given the geography of the region, and where Thailand sits with a number of border countries with different levels of border protections and corruption through the region, Thailand is one of the countries that is of some concern. It’s not of the highest concern. We have a close relationship through our International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, particularly with the Royal Thai Police, and one benefit to us having that facility there in Thailand, is that the Thais are able to fill more slots in our international academy than any other country as our co-host. We run a number of programs out of our International Law Enforcement Academy in Thailand each year, a number of counter-wildlife-trafficking programs. I think, last year, we did 3 or 4. We anticipate doing 3 or 4 again this year, and hope to continue our close collaboration with the Thai people and government. And to give you one final fact, we work on counter-wildlife-trafficking, currently, in over 40 countries around the world, including all of yours, and we train more than 1,000 criminal justice officials every year, and we’re looking to continue to expand those numbers. Thank you.
Reporter: Thank you.
Ms Gire: Thank you, Deputy Assistant Secretary Foote. I know we don’t have much time left. We have one final question, if you have the time, from Manila.
DAS Foote: OK.
Ms Gire: Please go ahead.
Reporter: Hi, how are you?
DAS Foote: Good, how are you?
Reporter: I’m doing great. My question would be, with our new presidents, both of us, the US and the Philippines, both have these strong personalities. The Philippines and the US is – the relationship between the two countries – is, well I can say, a little rocky. Do you see any challenge in this in terms of building a network with our country?
DAS Foote: OK. Well, first of all, thanks for the question. Second of all, you’re kind of breaking the rules, but I’m going to answer your question anyways. The Philippines and the United States have had a long, strong, and close partnership over the years, that ebbs and flows, and we are currently in a global policy review, but I think that both of our administrations understand the importance of continued strong relationships, and I feel pretty confident that we will find a way to maintain, continue, and strengthen our relationships with each other.
Ms Gire: Thank you.
Reporter: My last question would be – OK, can I ask for another question, ma’am?
DAS Foote: No, you got your question. I gave you your answer.
Ms Gire: Unfortunately, we’re out of time for today. I just wanted to check to see if Deputy Assistant Secretary Foote had any final words before we close the call.
DAS Foote: Well, let me thank all of you again for your attendance. As I mentioned before, some of the people who are involved in wildlife trafficking, and certainly many that are consumers aren’t fully aware of the laws and the regulations against wildlife trafficking, or the damage that we’re doing to species and the environment, so I would ask you to continue to do your great journalistic work and help us to raise awareness, and thank you for your time.
Ms Gire: 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 AsiaPacMedia@state.gov. And that concludes today’s call. I will turn it back over to the operator.