News : Rosewood and CITES: How do things stand?

    From the beginning of 2017, has been enforced the decision of the Plants Committee of the CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) which rules and monitors international trade of weakened or endangered species, to register the different species of the genre Dalbergia (rosewoods and palisanders) in the annex II1. This annex lists the species on which trade is strictly regulated, in order to follow worldwide stocks and their movements, and protect its individuals. Nevertheless, their trade is not forbidden, nor as restricted as those in the annex I, in which the only species of rosewood represented is Brazilian Rosewood (Dalbergia Nigra), since 1992.
This annexation was followed by many rumours and untruths which spread, creating a wave of panic among leaders and musicians. In order to clear the reigning confusion, here is where we're at, in simple words, and what obligation falls to everyone in case of possession or trade of instrument or accessories which includes rosewood.

This information is only related to the species in Annex II (rosewoods and pernambucos) and are not valid for Brazilian rosewood unless specified.

     Your best representatives in term of CITES regulation are the people working at the competent authority of your country. Each country has its own organization, generally related to the ministry, department, or office in charge of environmental matters. Don't hesitate to contact them as they can inform you about the situation, different kind of certificates, and necessary steps to follow. Another good source of information is the official website of the CITES. It's full of information, but not always easy to find the precise information in which we're interested. This post contains links towards the pages and documents concerning rosewoods and palisanders, and therefore all the species included in the annex II. Though these certificates could be seen as another administrative annoyance, they are necessary to protect rosewoods, and are not complicated to obtain if we follow the right procedure and got the right interlocutor. The first section will explain the situations that musicians can face, and the second section will treat of the problems that luthiers can be confronted with.

    For musicians, The first thing to keep in mind is that only trade is regulated, which means there's nothing illegal to own or to travel with less than 10 kilograms of rosewood2 if you're not aiming to sell it, as long as it's not Brazilian rosewood.

 A simple invoice is a proof of good faith. It enables you to move freely between different economic areas as long as the total weight of rosewood you carry doesn't exceed 10 kilograms2.

    Two scenarios can occur. Either your invoice is dated from before January 2017 and the regulation was not yet applied, or your invoice is dated from after January 2017, and your rosewood is coming from legal declared stocks. However, if that wasn't the case, you shouldn't be bothered, and only your supplier or his supplier, or the original importer of the wood could be blamed. If you have an invoice, keep it safe since it always proves either the legality of your purchase, or at least your good faith. This is the same for Brazilian rosewood, or even for ebony, which is not yet affected by Annex II, but could be registered in the coming years.

    The other possibility is that you own an old instrument set with original or old rosewood fittings, or you inherited an instrument, and so you don't have any invoice for it. It will be almost impossible to prove where the instrument comes from and what species of rosewood are attached to it. In this case there are two things to do.

  • The first thing is to go to your luthier to establish a “passport” for the instrument. This is a document which, though it has no official value, is well appreciated by customs officers and enables them to identify the different species of wood on the instrument. A numbered diagram classifies, names and describes each part of the instrument and its accessories, and the species of wood they're made of. Don't forget your bows! They can include tortoise shell or elephant ivory, which are in the annex I, and most of time pernambuco, which is on annex II. This document can also be really useful in case of theft, since it includes pictures of the instrument and potential certificate of authenticity.
  • Then, provided with this passport, you can contact the competent authorities in order to get a CITES Certificate for Musical Instrument called M certificate. This certificate can only be asked by the owner of the instrument, your luthier can't ask it for you. There's apparently no difficulty to get that all the more so that you have the passport established. This certificate along with the instrument's passport will enable you to go through customs without any trouble. Remember that these are really compulsory for the species in the annex I, nevertheless they can greatly help mobility of the musicians with their instrument if they have no invoices to prove that their rosewood is legal. Customs officer are not botanists and can mistake Brazilian rosewood with other rosewoods of the annex II. The certificate immediately dispels doubt. The passport and the certificate can also be made for instruments of known origin.

     We will append every new invoice concerning replacement of fittings or fingerboard. This will enable us to always keep the document up to date.

      Regarding the professional instrument makers, if you have rosewood stocks, you should have declared them to the competent authorities of your country before January 2017. If you didn't, two scenarios are possible:

    •  Either you have an invoice , and you can always prove that you bought your rosewood when its trade wasn't regulated yet. In this case, contact your local authorities in order to declare your stocks, show them your invoice, and then legalize your stocks. You might as far as you can know the country of origin of your wood and if possible its species (latin name). If you don't have these details and as far as your rosewood is not Brazilian rosewood, there is always a solution to legalize your stocks.
    • Either you don't have any invoice because the stocks are old and were transmitted or inherited. Then that will be very difficult to get these stocks legal. If you hadn't declared them before the fateful date, most of the time you won't be authorized to use it.

     For rosewoods bought after annexation, a simple invoice will prove that your rosewood is legal, or at least it proves your good faith as a buyer. If you bought it from outside your economic area, you need a CITES exportation permit (E Certificate) or a re-exportation certificate (R Certificate).

    The sale of an instrument containing or made of rosewood is strictly regulated. However, that doesn't mean that you need a CITES certificate every-time you're selling rosewood. I would even say it's fairly uncommon.

    • If the sale is happening in the same economic area (for example the E.U. Or the U.S.A), no certificate is required, since there was a CITES certificate delivered on entering the territory, or in case of pre-convention stocks, it had been declared. The only document you must provide your customer with is an official invoice.

    • If the sale occurs between two economic areas, you have to provide the buyer with a CITES Certificate of Re-exportation, (R certificate) that you will simply get from the local competent authorities. If you have an invoice for the wood or accessories, or have declared your stocks in time, the certificate is quickly sent to you. For the certificate to be legal, it should be stamped by the customs when exiting the territory of origin and stamped again when entering the country of destination. Then one leaf is returned to the seller, another one to the office that produced the certificate, and the third is kept by the buyer. This process has to be executed by the person who carries the item, shall it be the seller, the buyer, or a shipping company. Make inquiries first as a few companies are taking the CITES treatment in charge (DHL seems to be the best at the moment), and postal services don't manage it.

      A Cites certificate for collection of sample (T certificate) will be asked to you when an instrument has to be exhibited in a different economic area, and must be joined to the ATA. However, the instrument cannot be sold and must return to its country of origin. The sale must be subjected to a re-exportation certificate (R Certificate).

     All formalities are facilitated by official websites related to each local competent authority, on which you can register, and directly declare your stocks, invoices, and make an online application for a certificate. You'll generally find a link to these websites on the official  website of your national CITES authority. If you have no invoice, you might better get in touch directly with your local competent authorities by e-mail or phone to avoid any mistake.

     There are other types of certificates, but these don't concern instrument makers. The Certificate for Musical Instrument (M certificate) can be applied for only by the owner of the instrument, and is only necessary with instruments including species in annex I, like tortoise-shell, elephant ivory or Brazilian rosewood, or in annex II like rosewoods or pernambucos. It greatly facilitates mobility for the musician. They can obtain it by applying for it to the competent authorities of their home country. When you sell an instrument to a musician destined to travel, provide them with an instrument passport as described in the chapter intended for musicians. You can find elements to establish one by clicking here. We also created a template document to fill in that you can download by clicking here for the Word file, or here for the PDF file. This document includes guidelines and a glossary to help you filling it in.

     Let's not be afraid of rosewood any more. Rules are not much restrictive when you know the right procedure, and once the steps are done (if there are any to do), there's no need to come back to it. These measures are necessary to protect these splendid varieties that are rosewoods. Before the increasing scarcity of theses species, we have to respect these rules at best, and to take real good care of our instruments and fittings.


  1 Working document , COP17 doc 62 Seventeenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, Johannesburg (South Africa), 24 September – 5 October 2016.          Back to the article

  2 Working document PC23 Doc.22.2 , Twenty-third meeting of the Plants Committee, Geneva (Switzerland), 22 and 24 - 27 July 2017, page 3, interpretation of the exemption.... in the case of orchestras...        Back to the article


Other sources on the CITES website:
- PC22 Doc.17.6, Twenty-second meeting of the Plants Committee, Tbilisi (Georgia), 19 – 23 October 2015, Implementation of the convention for Dalbergia spp.
 - PC23 Doc.22.1, Twenty-third meeting of the Plants Committee, Geneva (Switzerland), 22 and 24 - 27 July 2017, Implementation of decision 17.234
 - PC23 inf. 8, Twenty-third meeting of the Plants Committee, Geneva (Switzerland), 22 and 24 - 27 July 2017, International trade in rosewood species for musical instrument making
 - PC24 Doc.18.2, Twenty-fourth meeting of the Plants Committee, Geneva (Switzerland), 20, 21 and 23 – 26 July 2018, report of the secretariat about Malagasy ebonies (Diospyros spp.) and palisanders and rosewoods (Dalbergia spp.)
 - PC24 Doc.19.1, Twenty-fourth meeting of the Plants Committee, Geneva (Switzerland), 20, 21 and 23 – 26 July 2018, report of the Plants Comittee