CITES & Guitars

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

No doubt many of you will have heard of CITES, wondered what it was about, possibly chose to ignore or were given incorrect advice, often blatantly misleading. We hear all sorts of bullshit every month from businesses that should 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 country to country. In the UK, administration is by the Animal and Plant Health Agency APHA, in Bristol: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/animal-and-plant-health-agency

The common issue is with Brazilian & Indian Rosewood. The Latin name is often used, prefixed by Dalbergia. Other timber species are included in listings, but occur less commonly in guitar manufacture. Unfortunately there is no specific go-to section within guide lines 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, Dalbergia Nigra, commonly used by big manufacturers – Fender, Gibson, Martin etc. – up 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 instruments 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, or you prefer maple boards, you fall out side the scope of CITES – Good news!
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 very difficult for the end user / buyer.

Within the UK it is illegal to advertise, 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. The A10 certificate number must be published in any advertisment. An offender can be fined or have the instrument seized, this includes agents. It is worth noting that many auction houses will no longer deal with guitars that do not have the correct paperwork.

Article 10 Certificates are available from APHA at a cost of £31. These are usually transaction specific, with the 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 EU after 1992 you should not have done so without the guitar having an Article 10 Certificate – which obviously for historic transactions it would not have had, as nobody was aware of legislation.

A10 Certificate

Be aware that currently you can buy from the USA, for example, the seller can obtain a US export certificate but it is highly unlikely that you will be granted a UK import certificate. Therefore the instrument could be seized by Customs and there is no chance of obtaining the coveted A10 if the instrument hits the UK, should it slip through the Customs’ net. There are certain exceptions if you do your research.

If selling to outside the EU the instrument needs a UK export certificate. 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. In the USA, where many instruments entering the EU started life, there are only six nominated ports an instrument can be shipped through – this complicates matters and increases shipping costs. There are exemptions for travelling musicians but beware of an overzealous Customs official.

Modern Guitars

As of January 2017, Indian Rosewood was dragged into the CITES net, along with a few other species. Indian Rosewood is a lesser Appendix II category. Import and export (re-export) certificates are required for guitars entering or leaving the EU. There is no Article 10 required. Guitars can be freely bought and sold within the EU, over borders (for now).

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. If the guitar does not have an Article 10 Certificate, do not buy. This will not go away, with or without Brexit, legislation will not be amended. In the unlikely event it is, this will take many years. It took about 25 years to get this far. Ultimately, I foresee a two tier pricing system with a blackmarket in Brazilian Rosewood, albeit at a much cheaper price. Remember it is not an investment if you cannot sell it. Buy to play but never forget you or your heirs may need to liquidise your asset one day.

The import of vintage guitars from outside the EU will slowly dry up and there will be a shortage of supply in the UK. Do not try to import Brazilian Rosewood items from outside the EU, you could seriously lose out. Don’t buy in the UK without an Article 10 Certificate – if you do you are deemed to have broken the Law, along with the vendor, so chances are you will gain very little sympathy from the Powers-that-Be.

Beware the numerous web posts on this matter, unless they are specifically applicable to procedure in the United Kingdom. Many are written with reference to the lesser Indian Rosewood. We will apply for certificates 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.