CITES & Guitars

Before you read on – In the UK it is illegal to advertise, buy or sell a guitar containing Brazilian Rosewood without the instrument having an Article 10 certificate. Therefore most pre- 1967 Fenders & Gibsons, among others. Do not believe anything else – the guitar does not have to be imported or exported. It applies to the UK home market, business, commission or private sale. E-bay, Reverb, Facebook & dealers generally choose to ignore this fact. This all kicked off in 1992.
Good news, the law was amended in 2019 and exempted Indian Rosewood (Appendix II species). The amendment is a confusing read but does not exempt Appendix I species, including Brazilian Rosewood. Most website articles do not distinguish between Indian & Brazilian Rosewood (Appendix II / Appendix I woods) and often imply Brazilian Rosewood is now exempt – this is not true.
Our personal view is that CITES should not be applied to vintage instruments already manufactured. It is nonsense, but Law. It was probably a mistake but the decision will not be reversed. Indian Rosewood rules were amended due to lobbying from major manufacturers with serious money & contacts. Unfortunately there is no such lobbying in the vintage or second hand market – which also compete with new instruments, so don’t expect the likes of Gibson to step up to the plate.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)

You may have heard of CITES, (also known as the Washington Convention), seen stuffed turtles in the airport and wondered what it was about. Possibly you chose to ignore it or were given incorrect advice, often blatantly misleading. We hear all sorts of bullshit every month from businesses that know better. This is not intended to give chapter and verse on International Law regarding protection of endangered species, but hopefully make you aware of the pitfalls regarding guitars.

The Law is applied Internationally but administered differently between countries. In the UK, administration is by the Animal and Plant Health Agency APHA, Bristol.

Most issues are with Brazilian Rosewood. The Latin name is Dalbergia Nigra. Other timber species are included in listings, but occur less commonly in guitar manufacture. Unfortunately there is no specific go-to section within Government guidelines for guitars. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/cites-controls-import-and-export-of-protected-species covers the lot: parrots, crocodile handbags, ivory, elephants feet, birds of prey… try getting a tune out of them.

Vintage Guitars

Brazilian Rosewood was often used by the major players – Fender, Gibson, Martin etc. – until around 1967 / 68 or later, for finger boards and bridges. Brazilian Rosewood falls within the most restricted CITES category, Appendix I. This has been Law since 1992 but nobody was aware, or bothered, until late 2016. The legislation covers any instrument made between approximately 1947 and 1992. See Knock on Wood blog. There is also, of course, ivory, but we’ll not go there today.

If the guitar was made pre-1947 you fall out side the scope of CITES – good news, do nothing!

If a guitar was made after 1992 with Brazilian Rosewood it is deemed illegal, unless it can be proved the timber used was legally held certified stock – now virtually impossible for the end-user / buyer.

Within the UK it is illegal to advertise, trade, buy or sell a guitar containing Brazilian Rosewood without the instrument having an Article 10 certificate.

This applies to dealers, retailers and private sales, eBay, Reverb, Facebook – basically anyone having a commercial interest or gain, every base is covered. The A10 certificate number must be published in any advertisment. An offender can be fined or have the instrument seized, this includes commission sellers. It is worth noting that most auction houses will no longer deal with guitars that do not have an A10. Curiously you need no paperwork to own an instrument.

Article 10 Certificates are available from APHA at a cost of £31. These are transaction-specific, with owner’s name. To obtain an A10 you must prove you purchased the guitar before 1992 and the instrument’s age. If you imported a vintage instrument after 1992 you have very little chance of obtaining an A10. If you bought the guitar within the UK or EU after 1992 you should not have done so without the guitar already having an Article 10 Certificate – which obviously for historic transactions it would not have had, as nobody was even aware of legislation, ridiculous but it’s the Law……

Identification

There is a much published on the web regarding identification. Brazilian Rosewood can look similar to Indian and lesser Rosewood species. You can have your guitar chopped up and analysed at Kew Gardens. Alternatively you can usually rely on manufacturers published specifications, if you can track them down. Otherwise, if you don’t know, you must assume worst case scenario – Appendix I. All of this will probably only become relevant when you are trying to fight your case. Try not to arrive at this point.

Shipping

If you ship a guitar across borders ensure the shipper knows if CITES applies and provide all the necessary paperwork. If it’s an old instrument and CITES does not apply, clearly state this fact on documents and list the wood species used.

Brexit

As of 1 January 2021 the UK now stands alone and import / export certificates are needed for Brazilian Rosewood to move instruments in or out of Europe. Only certain nominated UK ports can be used for import / export in order to validate paperwork on entry or exit. There is a list on the Gov’ website.

A Word on Import / Export

The A10 certificate is a totally separate document from an import or export certificate.
A guitar with CITES restricted wood, that is most vintage instruments, needs an export certificate from the UK and an import certificate in to its destination country, and vice versa. An import certificate will not be granted without a copy of the export certificate. This gets more complicated – once the certificate has been issued it must be presented with the instrument to be stamped by Customs on exit / entry. Most countries have only a few nominated ports where this transaction can take place. Fees must be paid and you must ensure the shipper organises all stamping of paperwork – nightmare.

Applications cannot be made retrospectively – such as when you’ve been caught out. There is every chance the guitar will be seized by Customs without relevant papers. There are exemptions for travelling musicians, details on the APHA website, but beware of an overzealous Customs official.

So if you import a 1964 Gibson ES 335 from the USA, this will need an export certificate from the US, requiring the guitar to be inspected by customs and the export licence stamped. It will not have an A10 as these do not exist in the USA.You need to apply for an import certificate in to the UK, from APHA Bristol, which you cannot do without a copy of the US export certificate (still with me…?) The import certificate may not be granted as the argument goes that APHA will not issue an A10 in the UK as the instrument was clearly purchased after 1992, as you have obviously just bought it……… If they do grant an import certificate they will never grant an A10, so in theory you can never sell the guitar, but legally you can own it, but not perform with it for money or gain…….. Don’t you just love Government.

Summary

It seems the impact on guitars and musical instruments was unintended or at best misunderstood by whoever drafted the legislation. APHA do enforce and Customs most definitely do. APHA are helpful and you can talk to them but they must uphold the Law.

Don’t bury your head in the sand or invest a large sum of money without the correct paperwork. It’s up to you but remember, it is not an investment if you cannot sell it. Buy to play, but never forget you or your heirs may need to liquidate your asset one day.

In the UK if you buy without an Article 10 you are deemed to have broken the Law, along with the vendor, so you will gain very little sympathy from the Powers-that-Be. It’s a ridiculous scenario but rules will not be relaxed – it took about 25 years to get this far.

Beware the numerous web posts on CITES, unless they are specifically applicable to procedure in the United Kingdom. Many are written from a US perspective, where there is no A10, or confuse Indian & Brazilian Rosewood. We will apply for certificates on your behalf for a small fee.

Finally…

A salutary tale:

Hi Andy

Great article on CITES.

I have recently bought a 1964 Strat from REVERB at £12,000, the US Export Permit was granted, but the UK Import certificate application was refused yesterday. The excerpt from the letter is as follows –

Although this guitar was made before the CITES Convention was established, and before Brazilian rosewood was listed on CITES Appendix I, the European Commission Regulations only allow the consideration of Appendix I / Annex A specimens as pre-Convention if they have previously been imported into the European Union (EU) before the listing of the species, in this case 11/06/1992 for Dalbergia nigra. As you have been unable to demonstrate that this guitar has previously been imported into the EU, your application is therefore refused.

I am absolutely gutted, but as your article points out, without the permits, I cannot legally trade it on if every I want to do so, therefore I will need to find one already in the UK/EU, with an Article 10 certificate.

I have been offered other options re-delivery to get round the fact that the permits are missing, but all of them are technically illegal, and selling it on will be a problem.

The only other solution is if I can find a previous owner in the UK/EU who is prepared to sign an Affidavit confirming they did, in fact, own it pre 1992, and over what years. APHA advise me that if I can provide this, they will grant the import permit on the basis that it is a re-import.

Ridiculous situation really, I will be requesting my funds be returned from REVERB, as I can.