CITES Treaty Negotiations Include Musical Instrument Policies

October 24, 2016

The League of American Orchestras was a voice for the music community in what is being called “game changing” treaty negotiations over international protected species rules. The 17th conference of the parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was the largest event in the treaty’s more than 40-year history, and the array of issues under consideration included two key areas that will impact the rules for musical instruments that cross borders among the 183 party countries. The League’s Vice President for Advocacy Heather Noonan was credentialed by the U.S. government and participated September 24 through October 4 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The League spoke on the floor of the negotiations, hosted a special event open to all delegates, and partnered with other national and international music organizations and conservation leaders to find solutions for musicians that use their instruments internationally.  

Heather Noonan at CITES

Heather Noonan on the CITES convention floor

Easing Travel with Musical Instruments

Among the voting delegates assembled in Johannesburg, the European Union initiated efforts to improve the current rules for travel with musical instruments. In advance of the negotiations and throughout the convening, the music community called for streamlining and harmonizing permit requirements for instruments that contain rosewood, ivory, tortoiseshell, and other material regulated under the treaty. 

Unanimous approval was given to:

  1. Clarify that instruments loaned to musicians may qualify for CITES Musical Instrument Certificates.
  2. Specify that the non-commercial scope of the Musical Instrument Certificates includes using the permits when traveling for “paid or unpaid” performances.
  3. Recommend that CITES countries not require permits when musicians are carrying instruments as personal effects.

If implemented across CITES Parties, this personal effects exemption could help the many musicians that prefer to carry instruments on-board flights or as checked items. Since implementation of the musical instrument certificate process began, nearly all orchestra musicians with CITES materials place their instruments in cargo shipments to avoid multiple, unwieldy permits in favor of a single permit and inspection procedure. If more musicians can carry instruments in cabin or as checked baggage without needing to obtain permits, they practice and rehearse at their own discretion (shortly before departure and soon after landing), as well as have the ability to branch away from a tour for other solo and smaller ensemble work. The personal effects exemption will represent real relief for international guest soloists, small-groups, and large ensemble musicians.

The League was recognized by the chair of the proceedings to address all CITES delegates, delivering comments on behalf of the international music community to support these improvements and urge further progress in streamlining and harmonizing international rules for travel with musical instruments.

Relief as Rosewood Protections Increase

An original proposal related to the rosewood frequently used in crafting musical instruments would have subjected significantly more musicians to the burdensome travel permit requirements. Entering into the negotiations, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, and Kenya requested listing all species of rosewood (the scientific name of the genus is dalbergia) under Appendix II of the treaty, requiring permits for transportation of any rosewood items across borders without exceptions.  While musical instruments that contain Brazilian rosewood already require CITES permits under the treaty’s highest Appendix I level of protection and will continue to do so, very many stringed instruments that contain Indian rosewood tuning pegs and tail pieces have not been subject to CITES permit rules. As the underlying threat to rosewood species is driven by a demand for large luxury furniture items, the music community successfully appealed to the CITES Parties to add an exemption for the small quantity of rosewood found in musical instruments so that permits would not be required when instruments are merely transported across borders for performances and personal use. Sales of these items across borders, on the other hand, will now require permits.

The process of crafting the non-commercial exemption for musical instruments was a very complicated one, and up to the very last moment of deliberations it was unclear whether a real solution had been found. On the closing day of the CITES decision-making process, the U.S. delegation, led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, took the highly visible and essential step of intervening during the proceedings to successfully obtain a clarification so that musicians traveling back and forth from their home countries with their instruments will find relief under the new rules. We are most grateful for this key leadership by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which is consistent with the recent steps taken by the Obama Administration to find solutions for musicians under new domestic ivory rules.

Special Event Features Musical Performances

On September 27, the League hosted a presentation, together with the National Association of Music Merchants, for all CITES delegates. The well-attended event featured opportunities to address urgent conservation priorities while facilitating international cultural exchange. Representatives from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the World Resources Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Austrian CITES management authority made comments at this presentation as well. The case for the music community was also made not only by the League but also by our essential partners from the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Violin and Bow Makers, the International Association of Violin and Bow Makers, International Federation of Musicians, Pearle Live Performance Europe, Martin Guitars, and Taylor Guitars. The highlight of the event was – by far – the extraordinary performances provided by two young musicians and the founder of South Africa's Music Enlightenment Project.

Music Enlightenment Project Musicians

Music Enlightenment Project founder Adeyemi Oladiran and students Kamogelo Mthembu
and Camila Lungile Mathebula perform on September 27, 2016
at a special event at the CITES negotiation in Johannesburg.

Next Steps and Implementation Still to Come

The countries that participate in CITES have 90 days following the conclusion of the negotiations to implement new policies. The League will continue to work with our coalition partners as well as U.S. and international authorities to seek the best possible outcome as implementation begins. As we received more detailed information about how procedures will change for both travel with musical instruments and sales of instruments across borders, the League will be updating our comprehensive guidance on these topics. The relationships established at this year’s negotiations form a critical foundation for work to come as CITES parties continue to make policies that impact the music community between now and the next Conference of Parties scheduled to take place in Sri Lanka in 2019.