U.S. calls on ASEAN to close markets selling illegal wildlife

MANILA, Philippines – The United States (US) government urged Southeast Asian countries to shut down wet markets that sell illegal wildlife as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic believed to have originated at a wildlife market in China. 

"Given the strong link between illegal wildlife sold in wet markets and zoonotic diseases, the United States has called on the People's Republic of China to permanently close its wildlife wet markets and all markets that sell illegal wildlife. I call on all ASEAN governments to do the same," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday, April 22 (Thursday, April 23, Manila time).

Wet markets are commonly found across Asia as a source of fresh produce, meat, and fish. The sites are popular across the region for providing access to quality food at lower prices.  

While most wet markets across Asia don't always sell illegal wildlife, some markets like those found in Wuhan, China, see wild animals kept in close proximity and in unsanitary conditions. This can lead to the spread of virulent disease between animals and humans.

Southeast Asia has also been regarded as a hub for the illegal wildlife trade because of its rich and rare flora and fauna, and its close proximity to China – the biggest market for trafficked wildlife. The issue is usually among the topics tackled at high-level meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

For this reason, calls have been growing to shut down such type of markets in the region. 

Meanwhile, the US assured it is working closely with countries in the ASEAN to battle the coronavirus pandemic. (READ: China 'comprehensively bans' wildlife trade over virus)

Pompeo had met with ASEAN leaders to discuss efforts to cooperate moving forward. Among these was the launch of the U.S.-ASEAN Health Futures initiative which focuses on health security through research, public health, and training the next future health professionals. 

Over $35.3 million in emergency health assistance has been released to ASEAN countries to fund efforts to fight the coronavirus. The US government has provided some $3.5 billion in public health assistance across ASEAN over the last 20 years. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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