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Attorney General Sessions Delivers a Statement on Behalf of the United States at the London Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference 2018


United Kingdom

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Foreign Secretary, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies‎, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of President Donald Trump, I would like to express our nation’s sincerest appreciation to Her Majesty’s Government for hosting this important conference, and for the leadership of the Royal family.

The United States views the poaching and trafficking of protected wildlife as a threat to good governance, a threat to the rule of law, and a challenge to our stewardship responsibilities for this good earth.

It is the rule of law that forms the foundation for liberty, safety, and prosperity.

Poachers, wildlife smugglers, and black market merchants are operating all over the world. Their criminal acts harm communities, degrade our institutions, destabilize our environment, and funnel billions of dollars to those who perpetrate evil in our world. 

These criminals must and can be stopped. Future generations must not say that the nations of the world sat back or responded with action that was too little or too late, while great species disappeared forever.

President Trump fully supports strong prosecution of those involved in the illegal wildlife trade, as do I. 

Criminal networks engaged in this illegal trade cross borders, transport their illegal goods worldwide too freely, and sell them to the highest bidder.  The only time criminals care about borders is when they hide behind them. It is our job to stop them.

At the Justice Department, we are fighting transnational organized crime, including wildlife trafficking, the value of which is estimated to exceed $20 billion annually. In some markets, just one kilogram of rhinoceros horn can sell for as much as $70,000.

We are continuing to fight hard to ensure that illicit wildlife products are not sold in America, and we strongly support the actions of other nations to close their marketplaces too.  We cannot allow the illegal extermination of entire populations of species. To the contrary, we must use our God-given resources and legal institutions to advance and defend the survival, not the annihilation, of God’s majestic creatures.

So, we are determined to make sure our country is neither a market nor a safe haven for these criminals.

This includes joining together to make it exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for poachers and smugglers in one country to be immune from prosecution by fleeing to other nations. It cannot be that a person who commits a serious wildlife crime in one country can simply run to other countries and be safe from law enforcement.

In the United States, we are proud of our longstanding commitment to defend wildlife.  The U.S. government made its first major commitment to the preservation of wildlife almost 120 years ago, with the passage of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the import, export, and sale of protected wildlife in the U.S. if the law of the foreign nation was violated.  Though we have made many advances since then, the Lacey Act remains among our nation’s most powerful weapons in the fight against the illegal wildlife trade.

Over 100 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt decried the “reckless extermination of all useful and beautiful wild things” and urged us to see “our duty … to restrain an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of [] unborn generations.”  To him, “the movement for the conservation of wildlife … [was] essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

Our law enforcement team is determined to honor this heritage.  Just two months ago, a New York man pleaded guilty to exporting to Thailand dozens of packages containing skulls, claws, and parts from African lions, tigers, and other protected species. 

The value of his shipments exceeded $150,000.  He is now headed to prison.

Also this year, a California resident was sentenced to prison after he was caught selling black rhino horns to an undercover agent posing as a taxidermist.

Early in my own career as a federal prosecutor, I prosecuted poachers.

There is no doubt that President Trump takes this issue seriously.  Within the first month of his presidency, he issued an Executive Order specifically recognizing wildlife trafficking as a dangerous form of transnational organized crime, together with drug and gun trafficking. 

He directed the U.S. to use all the tools at our disposal to disrupt and dismantle these despicable organizations.

The U.S. Government is committed to the fight to end wildlife trafficking – an effort that currently involves 17 departments and agencies that make up the President’s Task Force on Combating Wildlife Trafficking.  I am proud to say that all three co-chairs of the President’s task force – the Interior Department, the Justice Department, and the State Department – are represented here at this conference.

Since our nations gathered in London in 2014, the United States has dedicated more than $370 million specifically to combating wildlife trafficking. 

In 2016, the U.S. Congress passed the END Wildlife Trafficking Act to further strengthen coordination among federal agencies.

Today, U.S. agencies have devoted resources to address every dimension of this problem, from strengthening enforcement by training rangers, investigators, and prosecutors; to improving practices and capabilities at ports; to efforts to reduce demand for wildlife products; and to supporting other conservation efforts.  

The U.S. led the world in imposing a near-total nationwide ivory ban, and we have been pleased to see other nations imposing their own bans.  We hope that more will follow.

Many countries have declared wildlife trafficking a “serious crime” and have instituted stronger penalties.  We encourage more countries to do so.

But we still have a very long way to go. 

The United States will fund more than $90 million in counter-wildlife trafficking programs and projects in the coming year.

We will continue our efforts to disrupt these criminal networks, and we look forward to partnering with others.

We will redouble our efforts to root out the corruption that protects wildlife trafficking.

We will work to cut off the flow of the illicit proceeds of wildlife trafficking, including through the work of multilateral organizations such as the Financial Action Task Force Global Network.

For their part, U.S. intelligence agencies are enhancing capabilities to gather, share, and leverage intelligence about wildlife traffickers.

The Department of the Interior, led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, will continue strategically placing Senior Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Law Enforcement Attachés at American Embassies, increasing the current number from 7 to as many as 12.  

These highly trained and experienced criminal investigators will be on the front line, working with our foreign partners to fight wildlife trafficking in source, transit, and destination regions of the world.

We are tackling this problem head-on in our trade agreements.  Just last week, the United States, Mexico and Canada announced a new trade agreement to replace NAFTA—the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.  That agreement includes the strongest provisions to combat wildlife trafficking of any trade agreement in history.  

In addition, with funding from the State Department, the Department of Justice’s overseas training and capacity building offices will continue to make wildlife trafficking a priority. 

For example, we recently placed an expert Justice Department prosecutor as a Resident Legal Advisor in Laos to enhance the capacity of Southeast Asian countries to combat illegal wildlife trafficking.  

Later this month, I am personally convening at the Department of Justice an expert forum to focus on countering the illegal wildlife trade.  

We will continue to engage the private sector, especially the technology sector, to reduce online/cyber sales of illicit wildlife.

And with the transportation sector to stop the illegal shipment of illicit wildlife.

We will seek to change consumer behavior at home and abroad about illegal wildlife products, to seize proceeds of illegal wildlife trafficking. And to use our diplomatic outreach to foster greater international cooperation in this arena.

Again, on behalf of the United States, I extend appreciation to Her Majesty’s Government and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Royal Family. This international gathering is a fabulous opportunity to learn what the nations of the world are doing to solve this vexing problem, to learn from each other, and to re-affirm our commitment to battle the illegal wildlife trade vigorously. Our nation sees ending the poaching and trafficking of protected wildlife as a worldwide conservation imperative.

The United States, under the strong leadership of President Trump, is proud to join in this noble and worthy cause.

Thank you.

Updated October 11, 2018