Following three years of consensus-building among music stakeholders, governmental authorities, and conservation experts, policy requests put forward by the League of American Orchestras (the League) and partners in the international music community gained approval today at the gathering of 183 parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), where musical instruments in use by musicians across the globe were on the agenda August 17 through 29, alongside urgent new policies shaped to address threats to plant and animal species worldwide. Actions were approved that will improve the mobility of performing artists, redirect enforcement resources to better support conservation, and advance critical conservation efforts while also supporting ongoing international cultural activity.

For orchestras and individual musicians seeking to buy and sell instruments across borders, or to simply travel internationally for performances, CITES sets limitations on this activity and requires permits for instruments that have historically been made with small amounts of material from species that have now come under protected status, such as rosewood, lizards, sea turtles, and elephants. The League participated in the deliberations at the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18), as treaty negotiators considered new rules related to items containing rosewood (PDF), cedrela (PDF), and mammoth ivory (PDF), and considered improvements to the Musical Instrument Certificate (PDF) in use by touring orchestras.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a leading supporter of these policy improvements, and the U.S. head of delegation, Assistant Interior Secretary Rob Wallace, delivered remarks in support of musical instruments at a special event in Geneva held on the first day of the deliberations, co-hosted by the League and sponsored by NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants. Remarks were also given by delegates from the European Union, Canada, the CITES Secretariat, World Resources Institute, and the World Wildlife Fund International, all in support of policy changes that advance both conservation needs and cultural activity.

The following improvements were adopted at CoP18:

Rosewood: A proposal by Canada and the European Union was adopted to allow all commercial and non-commercial movement of finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories that contain rosewood (the dalbergia genus) to be exempt from CITES permit requirements, aside from Brazilian rosewood (dalbergia nigra), which has been under tighter restrictions since 1992, and will remain subject to permit requirements.  The exemption will be available starting in late-November, 90 days after adoption. This represents a significant form of relief for musicians that internationally buy and sell the many woodwind, string, and percussion instruments that contain rosewood and change ownership many times during the long life of the instrument. This also adds certainty for musicians and orchestras traveling with musical instruments that contain rosewood, as these instruments will be fully exempt from permit requirements. These exemptions will also provide relief to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CITES management authorities globally that have been overwhelmed by a large volume of permit requests for finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories since new permit requirements went into effect on January 2, 2017. In the course of discussions among musical instrument stakeholders, Parties to CITES, and conservation organizations, a consensus view emerged confirming that there is not a corresponding conservation value to requiring that finished musical instruments, parts, and accessories repeatedly undergo the permit process. The rosewood material used in making musical instruments will remain subject to permit requirements, which is an important conservation effort supported by musical instrument stakeholders at CoP18 (PDF).

Cedrela: A proposal related to newly listing in CITES Appendix II Cedrela, a tree species that is used in making some classical guitars, was amended to address only logs, sawn wood, veneer sheets, and plywood from species grown in neotropical regions, which will exempt finished musical instruments containing Cedrela from new CITES permit requirements.

Mammoth: A proposal to include the woolly mammoth as a species subject to CITES controls was rejected, as newly regulating an extinct species is beyond the scope of CITES and as many Parties stated that mammoth ivory can be identified as differentiated from elephant ivory in trade. Mammoth ivory has been used in small quantities as a replacement for elephant ivory in musical instruments for several decades. CITES parties agreed to consider studying how the trade in mammoth ivory impacts elephant conservation.

Musical Instrument Certificate: A decision was approved, with leadership by the U.S. and E.U., to initiate a critical CITES effort to streamline and simplify permit requirements for “the international movement of CITES specimens where the trade will have a negligible impact on the conservation of the species concerned,” which can include the non-commercial cross-border movement of musical instruments. The CITES Musical Instrument Certificate is used by individual musicians and ensembles when performing internationally with older instruments containing protected species material that still require CITES permits, such as elephant ivory tips on bows, tortoiseshell embellishments, and lizard skin bow grips. This means that substantial resources must be invested by both musicians and enforcement authorities, simply to allow musicians to perform internationally with their instruments and bring them back home, still firmly in their possession. Next steps in response to calls to ease the permit burden (PDF) will take place in CITES meetings beginning in 2020. Resolutions were also approved to harmonize the codes used on the Musical Instrument Certificate and clarify the requirements for determining that items qualify for CITES permits.
Musical instrument stakeholders have a lasting commitment to the goals of CITES and will remain at the table for ongoing formulation of policies that support the sustainability of endangered global species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon partner with the League to produce a webinar detailing the new rules for musical instruments. In the meantime, detailed information about changes to the current rules for traveling with musical instruments containing endangered species material are available on the League of American Orchestras website.


In Geneva and over the course of the three-year negotiations, the League has been represented by Heather Noonan, Vice President for Advocacy. The League thanks the many global partners that collaborated to advance these policy requests, including: American Federation of Musicians, Argentinian Association of Musical Instruments Manufacturers, Association of British Orchestras, Australian Music Association, Brazilian Music Industry Association (ANAFIMA), The National Association of German Musical Instruments Manufacturers, C.F. Martin & Co., Confederation of European Music Industries (CAFIM), Dismamusica, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation, ForestBased Solutions, LLC, French Musical Instrument Organization (CSFI), International Alliance of Instrument and Bow Makers for Endangered Species, International Association of Violin and Bow Makers (EILA), International Federation of Musicians (FIM), International Wood Products Association, Japan Musical Instruments Association, Madinter, Music Industries Association, National Association of Music Merchants, Orchestras Canada, Paul Reed Smith, PEARLE*, The Recording Academy, The SOMM – Society of Music Merchants e. V., and Taylor Guitars.

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