How the new CITES regulations will affect makers and players of wooden flutes

Preface: What is CITES?

As of January 2nd 2017, african blackwood and all other Dalbergia species of rosewoods are listed in CITES appendix II (or B). Most people are not aware of the CITES treaty - CITES means "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species" and regulates trade, distribution and general handling of specimen of endangered species world-wide, where specimen means anything from animals to flowers, as well as animal and plant parts like ivory and timbers.

This will have fundamental impact on the business of instrument makers, and owners as well. It will take some time to dive into the details of CITES and its regulations in order to find out what is relevant for businesses and what isn't - so I decided to write down everything I learned during my investigations, both for myself to remember and for everyone who might find it useful.

Please note that this is information I collected personally, and it may well be wrong or outdated. As with most regulatory issues, those who enforce the regulations have to learn all about them first, just as we do. Therefore, they might have provided me with false information. If you can spot any errors or if you are able to explain things in a better way, please contact me and let me know - I'd be glad to learn more.

What happened?

There are three CITES appendices.

Species listed in appendix I (or A) are not tradable or otherwise distributable, which means that they may not be used for making musical instruments unless it can be proven that the materials used are pre-CITES. Species listed in appendix II (or B) are restricted, and certain regulations apply. Species listed in appendix III (or C) are protected in at least one country, but not generally.

Up to October 4th 2016, there was only one Dalbergia species listed, in CITES app. I - Dalbergia nigra, or rio rosewood (german: Rio-Palisander). Especially stringed instruments used to be made from Dalbergia nigra, and after the species was added to appendix 1, trade of the timber was prohibited. Instrument owners were advised to get a certificate which said that their instrument was made from pre-CITES material, allowing them to travel with it - without that certificate, their instrument could get confiscated by customs.

From October 2nd to 4th 2016, the CITES convention decided to add all previously unlisted Dalbergia species to appendix II (or B), thus making them subject to restrictions after three months from the convention on: January 2nd 2017.

Why were the Dalbergia species added?

The main reason seems to be the demand for luxury tropical timber furniture especially in Asia, which caused overworking of many Dalbergia species. As most rosewoods are very decorative, they're often used for rare and expensive furnishing. To control the trade routes, CITES decided to add all species to list II.

The impact on instrument making and music business is considered collateral damage, since blackwood isn't commonly used for furniture AND isn't endangered at all - which makes all of this really annoying. However, we - both makers and owners - have to deal with it now. This may not be the case for other rosewoods, like Indian or Honduran Rosewood, which are commonly used for making stringed instruments and show a much more lively grain figure than blackwood, thus being more attractive for furniture use and maybe really overworked.

Dalbergia species / rosewoods commonly used for instrument making are:

  • African Blackwood: Dalbergia melanoxylon
  • Cocobolo: Dalbergia retusa
  • Kingwood: Dalbergia cearensis
  • Honduras rosewood: Dalbergia stevensonii
  • Indian rosewood: Dalbergia latifolia
  • and more...

What does this mean for me as a maker?

Timbers listed in CITES appendix II are regulated. This basically means that the full supply chain has to be retraceable, from harvesting over sawmills and traders to the maker and the end user. It DOES NOT mean that timbers listed in CITES II may not be used for making instruments! You just have to use the timber in compliance with the new rules and regulations.

In detail, this means:

  • Stocks you buy must come with a CITES certificate that proves its origin down to the moment of harvesting.
  • Stocks that you already have MUST be registered with your local authority before January 2nd 2017. If you register it afterwards, you must prove its legal origin. This can be hard since you probably don't have certificates, as they simply weren't necessary when you obtained the timber. This is VERY IMPORTANT. You can just as well burn your stocks if you don't register it before January 2nd 2017!
  • You have to keep a detailed account of stocks you obtain and stocks you sell or give away. Every transaction in this account has to contain a serial number, a date, from where and whom you got the stocks or to where they went, what exactly moved in or out. This doesn't apply to wood dust or shavings (phew...).
  • The account has to be forgery-proof, so you probably need to do everything in handwriting, in a casebound book, with consecutive event numbers and dates.
  • Every customer needs to get a CITES certificate with their instrument. You will get the certificate from the authority you reported your stocks. The costs amount to 2.5% of the instrument's selling value before tax (this is what it's like in Germany, anyway - it may be different where you live). You can't get certificates in advance, they are bound to a single instrument that needs to be identified somehow (serial number?). You can get discounts if you apply for more than one certificate at a single date, for example five blackwood flutes of the same making/design. Ask your local authority.
  • To import stocks yourself, you need an import warrant.
  • To export instruments to outside of the EU, you need an export warrant.

What does this mean for me as a player/owner?

Fortunately, not much. There is a travel allowance of 10 kg per species listed in CITES II for travelling within the EU. Since most instruments weigh a lot less, you can travel with your flute, oboe, or clarinet without any documents given you're not using the instrument commercially (see below).

For travelling outside the EU, you may need to get a "muscial instrument passport" - in Germany it's called "Musikinstrumentenbescheinigung". In Germany, the Bundesamt für Naturschutz (BfN) is responsible. They have a form for a certificate, which you have to fill out in order to apply for the certificate. You also need to include a "Vorlagebescheinigung" which you get at your local authority (Germany: Untere Landesbehörde, Kreisebene - "Umweltamt" or similar), where you have to present your instrument to prove it exists and is indeed made from the materials you provided on the form.

The certificate is valid for three years and costs about 50 EUR.

For travelling both inside and outside the EU, there are certain restrictions. The most important one prohibits you from using your instrument commercially. However, this only includes selling it or renting it out - playing concerts on it (for a fee) is NOT a commercial use according to CITES.

I hope that the above will provide you with the most important information about the new CITES regulations. However, I still need to investigate further here.

In the US, I think the responsible authority is the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Links / Sources