THE CITES PLANT COMMITTEE held an open meeting in Geneva last month, offering musical instrument manufacturers the rare opportunity to comment on and criticize the highly disruptive rosewood regulations that were hastily implemented in January of this year. Approximately 25 instrument makers, including representatives from Martin and Taylor Guitars, and Madinter, a leading supplier of tonewoods, were present. Scott Paul, director of natural resource sustainability at Taylor Guitars, said the committee was surprised by the unusually large turnout and “gave us a very sympathetic hearing.”
The CITES regulations in question placed all 200-plus species of Dalbergia, commonly known as rosewood, on “Appendix II” status, requiring manufacturers to secure import and export licenses for all products containing rosewood. For guitar and wind instrument makers, the new rules effectively brought trade to a halt as countries around the world scrambled to develop the appropriate forms and procedures for complying with the new rules. As a result, in the first quarter of 2017, U.S. electric guitar imports plummeted by 25% and acoustic guitar imports were off 31%.
The CITES Plant Committee cannot alter the text of the rosewood regulations. That can only be done by the CITES Committee of Parties (COP) which will next meet in 2019. What the Plant Committee can do is suggest alternative interpretations of the text. Given that even the Committee conceded that the rules were poorly written and full of ambiguous language, “alternative interpretations” hold the promise of easing some of the compliance burdens.
The good news emerging from the meeting was that the 500 scientists, environmental organization representatives, and interested observers in attendance seemed to agree that there were opportunities to scale back some of the burdensome reporting requirements on manufacturers that use rosewood, including guitar and wind instrument companies, without sacrificing the goal of preserving the world’s rosewood forests. The bad news was that the Plant Committee can only make recommendations; any actual changes to the CITES rules have to wait for the full COP meeting, set for some time in 2019 in Sri Lanka.
Environmental enforcement agencies around the world, like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, are emerging as an unlikely ally in rewriting the rosewood rules. Several agency representatives at the meeting complained that generating export licenses for musical instruments was consuming a disproportionate amount of time, diverting personnel from far more pressing issues.
Reposted from MusicTradesMagazine