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U.S. using trade agreement negotiations to fight poaching

By Noreen O'Donnell

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States is using negotiations on trade agreements to combat illegal international wildlife trafficking, which it regards as a threat to national security, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Monday.

“Poaching is funding corruption, it’s funding terrorist groups, and a lot of it is making its way around the world into Asia and into the United States,” Froman said at a news conference at John F. Kennedy Airport.

To meet the threat, the United States is emphasizing the environmental component of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement that the United States is negotiating with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, he said.

Similar efforts are also part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the European Union.

In May, Judith Garber, an acting assistant secretary of state told Congress that, although it was difficult to determine the extent to which terrorist organizations took part in trafficking, it was believed that the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Janjaweed and al-Shabaab were at least partly involved.

There was evidence that some insurgent groups were directly involved in poaching or trafficking, trading wildlife products for weapons or safe havens, she added.

Froman spoke next to a table displaying intricate carvings made of elephant tusks and rhino horns, tiger and leopard skins and snake skins, and the skull of an orangutan.

More than 20,000 African elephants were poached in 2013, according to a report from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Some 1,000 rhinoceros were killed, according to Froman. Rhino horn sells for $30,000 a pound, authorities said.

The report said that, although the sharp upward trend in illegal elephant killing since the mid-2000s was leveling off, alarmingly high poaching continued to exceed the natural growth rates of the elephant population, resulting in a further decline across Africa.

“The high demand for wildlife products is having a devastating impact, with iconic species like elephants and rhinos facing the risk of significant decline or even extinction,” Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement.

“The president's strategy to combat wildlife trafficking, including decreasing demand at home and abroad, is important to strengthen our nation's leadership on countering the global security threat posed by the criminal markets that encourage poaching and illegal trade."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Andre Grenon)

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