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CITES - Is Rosewood Illegal? (No!) / Monday, 07 August 2017

Written by  Alex Mew
CITES - Is Rosewood Illegal? (No!)

On 2nd January 2017, countries around the world came together to sign a new CITES declaration which places restrictions on the use of all types of Dalbergia species Rosewood.

These new regulations, although well intended, have made life very difficult for guitar manufacturers – and others. In an attempt to stop the over-harvesting of endangered species in select regions of the world, the new CITES convention decided to list ALL rosewood species in Appendix 2. (All that is apart from Brazilian Rosewood, which is already in Appendix 1, which means you really can't trade it anywhere as it's super endangered!)

Indonesian Rosewood (locally known as Sonekeling) – and many other species used in guitar building – are harvested from carefully managed, plantation grown stock, specifically planted to be used for these purposes. 

There are a few species of rosewood in a few countries that do need protecting, however as it is difficult to tell species of rosewood apart by sight, every single variant from every country is now subject to restrictions. So the implications have been huge, and far beyond that which any well-intended person foresaw when planning to save endangered trees.

Why is CITES an issue for guitars?

Well, it has a number of implications. In particular cost, and time.

The Faith workshops apply for an export permit for every shipment that contains even an ounce of rosewood. Then the destination country must apply for an import permit once the original export permit has been granted. Each permit takes between 3 and 5 weeks to obtain. 
Once the goods arrive at their destination, customs will check the paperwork, and if all good will sign it off.
When the guitar is in the country of destination, that’s all cool. Nothing more to worry about… as long as you don’t want to sell it to another country.
But.. If as a music store – or technically even as a regular human – you wanted to sell your rosewood equipped guitar into another country, you would need to apply for a re-export permit. Then the new owner in the other country would have to apply for an import permit, once your re-export had been granted.

And every permit costs extra money.

Image result for dalbergia latifoliaAgain, although well intentioned, these processes add a lot of time to the production and shipping schedule, plus add extra costs and also give a disincentive to rosewood plantation owners to replenish their rosewood stocks. Therefore, the amount of rosewood trees decreases, as fewer are required to fulfil demand. Then prices for rosewood increase.

But.. I guess the intended consequences are the outcome we have: Rosewood use decreasing.

So, during 2017 the vast majority of Rosewood on Faith guitars will be replaced by Indonesian Ebony. This is a proven timber which also grows on plantations near to our workshops. So availability is good. However, the potential big-picture downside is that as every manufacturer looks for timber to replace the non-endangered rosewood timbers, they tend to gravitate towards the same few solutions: Ebony (Indonesian or Indian, Santos Rosewood – which isn’t a true rosewood, Pau Ferro). This in turn creates extra pressure upon those replacement timbers.

Faith Guitars will naturally continue to follow the law and work to ensure that we source our timbers responsibly.

So how does this affect me?
As a professional musician who is touring, there should be no problem, but your tour manager will sort things for you.
As a member of an orchestra there are special dispensations and special certificates available to smooth the way.
As a regular guy or girl just taking your guitar on a plane, there should be no problem.
If you’re sending a guitar as a gift to a friend, there should be no problem…. Although there are conflicting anecdotes in regard to this.

The CITES system does work, and its OK. It’s just a pain… and as it’s so new, the interpretation of the law is not exactly set in stone yet, especially when comparing country to country.

My guitar has rosewood on it, should I worry?

No. Your guitar is the same as it was before. The only issue would be if you wanted to sell it to someone in another country. Then you’d need a permit from the APHA.
You can travel with it. You can use it. You can resell it within your own country, and if you’re within the EU, you can sell within any EU member country too.

Is Rosewood illegal now?

No. You just need permits to ship it across borders.

Is the Rosewood used on my Faith Guitar endangered?

No. It is Indonesian Rosewood (known locally as Sonekeling). It is a member of the Dalbergia species of trees - which are listed in the CITES Appendices - but the timber we use was and is government certificated, and plantation grown specifically to be cut down for these purposes.

Can I take my guitar on holiday?

Yes. As long as your airline takes care of it! But that’s a whole other conversation…
Contact your airline to ask how they handle your guitar. Always try to get it into the cabin if you can.

I’m worried about this. Who can I talk to?

Take a look here. You can find your local CITES authority. They can answer your questions in more detail.
For what it’s worth, the UK APHA authorities have been very helpful in clarifying the situation when required.

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