Got Wood? Then Get Some Paper – You’ll Need It

Dan Daley • Last Word • March 23, 2017

Charles Foster Kane, the protagonist of the single best American film ever made, “Citizen Kane,” left us with one cryptic word that, if parsed correctly, would completely explain him: “Rosebud.” Just as the NAMM Show was getting under way in Anaheim this year, MI retailers, manufacturers, and customers encountered a similar, and similarly Rosetta Stone­like word: “Rosewood,” the intersection of the next generation of regulation and conservation.

On Jan. 2, new regulations stemming from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) went into effect, with a particular emphasis on rosewoods, a prime tonewood for guitars. The new regulations stipulate the highly specific documentation now required when shipping instruments internationally that contain any amount of any kind of rosewood or certain types of bubinga. The conference, which was held in Johannesburg last October, decided that all species of rosewood under the genus Dalbergia and three bubinga species (Guibourtia demeusei, Guibourtia pellegriniana, and Guibourtia tessmannii, if you’re into horticultural taxonomy) will be protected under CITES Appendix II. Kosso – sometimes called African rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceus) – will also be protected. The new regulations are an extension of the protections already afforded Brazilian rosewood varieties under CITES’s Appendix I.

The new regulations come with substantial paper work – and penalties. When applying for a CITES re­export certificate for products or wood that were imported on or after January 2, 2017, the applicant must provide a copy of the CITES document that was presented at the time of importation into the United States, as well as documentation showing the chain of custody, such as invoices between all parties involved in the domestic sale of the product or wood. Without this documentation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the U.S. agency responsible for monitoring compliance, will not be able to issue the required re­export certificate.

Shipments of CITES­listed rosewood arriving at one of any of the 18 U.S. ports qualified to handle CITES shipment on or after January 2, 2017, without the required CITES documents may be held and seized or refused clearance, depending on the outcome of further discussion with the exporting or re­exporting country. MI manufacturers who currently have stockpiles of the newly regulated wood must document their inventory and apply for pre­convention certificates.

(However, these regulations don’t apply to instruments shipped within the borders of the U.S. or to instruments carried for personal use while traveling internationally unless they contain more than 22 lbs. of the regulated woods. That exemption is critical and an acknowledgement of the uproar that the original Appendix I rulings caused among musicians who feared that their instruments could be seized at airports. For more information, contact FWS at (703) 358­2104 or at managementauthority@fws.gov.)

Down The Food Chain

These regulations follow the raw material down into the retail chain – and beyond. When shipping musical instruments that include any amount (i.e. fingerboard, back, sides, binding) of Dalbergia or the other newly regulated woods out as part of a commercial transaction, each one must be accompanied by a CITES re­export certificate. Even if the instrument was made with Dalbergia or the other regulated woods that were acquired before January 2, 2017, such as a used or vintage instrument, it still must be accompanied by a CITES certificate and marked pre­convention when shipping internationally.

Even for noncommercial, individual sellers who use portals like Reverb.com or eBay to sell personal instruments, if that instrument has, for instance, East Indian rosewood back and sides, and the buyer is in Canada or Mexico, the seller must apply for a re­export certificate, pay the application fee, receive the certificate, and include that document with the guitar when shipping. The document process alone could take months, making a day at the DMV seem like a walk in the park.

(A similar situation was recently mitigated, thanks in part to activist musician organizations. Rules governing travel with musical instruments that contain small quantities of African elephant ivory were broadened at the end of last year, clarifying that legally­crafted musical instruments are not contributing to the African elephant poaching and trafficking crisis. The League of American Orchestras played a major role in getting the FWS to change those rules.)

Combined with a growing international body of regulations regarding how electronics can be disposed of, the new rosewood regulations are a reminder of how the MI and pro audio industries have become much more sensitive to, and about, environmental issues, from energy efficiency to how and where wood used for guitars and other instruments is sourced. These new rules are burdensome and expensive to makers of musical instruments and, ironically, may be less predictable than originally thought because of the profoundly anti­regulatory bent of the new sheriff in the White House. It’s possible CITES 2.0 isn’t on President Trump’s radar yet, but if it winds up there it could be one executive action away from invalidation.

The new CITES regs also come at a time when guitar sales have been soft – NAMM’s own stats reflect a 10­year mostly downward trend as of 2015. New regulations incur new costs that are passed down the line through retail to the customer. That’s not an equation that’s going to help reverse that trend. On the other hand, the overarching goal of the regulations is to help conserve and preserve the supply of tonewoods that are so integral to quality guitars and other instruments. That’s what you need to keep in mind while you’re waiting for the application to clear.

Leave a Comment:

The Latest News and Gear in Your Inbox - Sign Up Today!