All Rosewood on CITES: What this means for Luthiers and Traveling Musicians





In September of 2016, the CITES delegates agreed to place ALL Rosewood under Appendix II protection, effective January 2nd, 2017.

Many musicians and builders alike are familiar with the fact that Brazilian Rosewood, or Nigra Dalbergia, is a protected species, and that there are many restrictions surrounding the sale, and transportation of this overly exploited member of the Rosewood family.

Well Brazilian Rosewood is just 1 out of 8 Dalbergias listed under one of the three Appendices on CITES and just 1 out of 304 members of the Rosewood family.

Now, beginning in 2017, ALL 304 species will be listed under Appendix II.  The new listing, by the way,  also includes Bubinga.

Furthermore, there is an annotation to the list which expands the definition out to “all parts and derivatives.” So the list now covers not just raw wood, but finished goods such as musical instruments.

So What is CITES?

CITES (The Convention on International Trading in Endangered Species of flora and fauna) is essentially an agreement between governments whose “aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.”

There are 3 appendices to CITES with Appendix I being the most restrictive and Appendix III being the least.

Here is what you need to know:

Appendix I contains Brazilian Rosewood, elephant ivory and tortoiseshell.

Appendix II contains all other Rosewoods (starting Jan. 2, 2017).

First and foremost, none of this matters if your instrument, your guitar parts, your raw wood or whatever it is that you are selling or carrying does not cross any international borders. It does not matter if it’s Appendix I or Appendix II, CITES only affects border crossings.

For The Traveling Musician

For the musician who travels internationally with their instrument, you may be covered by the Personal Effects Exemption.

“Personally owned or possessed specimens will be exempted as personal effects if both the countries of import and export implement the personal and household effects exemption for the species and the specimen at the time of import, export or re-export was worn, carried or included in personal baggage.”

So this means that you have to check with both the country that you are entering AND the country that you are leaving to be sure that they allow the Personal Effects Exemption. And this only applies to Appendix II. So no Brazilian Rosewood, elephant ivory or tortoiseshell.

There is another exemption for non-commercial shipments up to 22 lbs, though there is debate over what “22 lbs” means.

Fish and Wildlife defines 22 lbs as 22 lbs of RosewoodThis means that a travelling musician can ship an instrument ahead of themselves without a permit if the shipment includes less than 22 lbs of rosewood. This is good news. I can’t imagine any instrument with 22 lbs of rosewood unless the case is made out of the stuff!

Apparently, in Europe, however, some sources define 22 lbs as the whole shipment. Under that definition, you can imagine how a single instrument with it’s case can be outside of the exemption… so it’s a gray area.

It may be easier and wiser to just get the Musical Instrument Certificate, AKA passport.

I’ll explain what that is…

On the Fish and Wildlife website there are two permit applications:

-One application for a one-time import/export.

-And one for “frequent non-commercial, cross-border movement of musical instruments for purposes including, but not limited to personal use, performance, display, and competition with the issuance of just one document.”

The latter is called the Musical Instrument Certificate, and it seems to me that they both take the same amount of time and cost the same amount of money through filing fees and whatnot. So it seems to make sense to just get the Musical Instrument Certificate and not bother with the one-time import/export permit. That way, you save yourself the hassle of having to potentially get another permit in the future. The Musical Instrument Certificate lasts for 3 years.

Fish and Wildlife states that you should allow atleast 45 – 60 days for the permit or certificate, but I have heard from other sources that it may take up to 90 days so apply very early. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a lot longer than 90 days, in some instances. I’d imagine that there are going to be A LOT of permit applications now with these new regulations including all rosewoods. Fish and Wildlife may be understaffed to handle all the new requests. We will see. Either way, you should apply very early.

For Luthiers and Dealers

Okay, now we are talking about crossing borders for commercial purposes.

That could be shipping an instrument to a customer. That could be carrying an instrument for display at a guitar show. That could be raw wood, partially finished kit parts, or finished guitars…

These purposes are NOT covered by the Personal Effects Exemption, the Musical Instrument Certificate, or the 22 lb noncommercial shipping exemption.

Whether selling or simply displaying at a show, you HAVE to get permits.

For Appendix I (again, that’s Brazilian Rosewood, elephant ivory and tortoiseshell), you need permits for every single border crossing. That is permits with an “s”. Plural. Because you need an import permit AND an export permit for every crossing.

For Appendix II (all other rosewoods), you only need the export permit.

There are two options for commercial purposes:

  • a permit for individual shipment
  • a permit for a “Master File”

The Master File costs $200 and lists everything in your shop. So, as a builder, you would catalog every little piece of rosewood you have in your shop, and every time you ship an instrument internationally, you ship it with a photocopy of the Master File.

Any new rosewood obtained after you applied for the Master File will not be covered. You need a new Master File for that. New master files after the original, however, are only $100.

Remember, we are still talking about international shipments. Domestic shipments will not require any permit.

So what do these permits look like?

I have never applied or used these permits. In fact, nobody has because everything I am talking about doesn’t go into effect until January of 2017. But Brazilian Rosewood has been on Appendix I since 1992, and many have gone through the permit procedures for Appendix I items. Personally, I have never even touched a piece of Brazilian Rosewood, so I have no personal experience with the process.

I do, however, teach students from around the world to build acoustic guitars, both online, and in-person. So I’d like to understand this process for them. Last summer, I had a student in my Hands-on Guitar Building Workshop come from Bahrain, a small country in the Persian Gulf. He worked there for 5 years as a contract worker and returned to the US to prepare for a move to Kuwait. While in the US he took my course and built a beautiful instrument, which he then had to trust to a shipping container on it’s way to Kuwait. Now there was no Brazilian Rosewood on this instrument, so no paperwork required. But now that all rosewoods will be on CITES, I’d like to know how this changes things, going forward.

So with that said…

From my research, it appears that a permit, whether for Appendix I or Appendix II, basically involves 3 things, once you get past all the usual bureaucratic fill-in-the-box:

  • Description of the item
  • Photographs
  • Proof that the species was obtained legally

Proof is the tricky part.

As this rolls out, the wood you order post January 2017, should come with documentation… I’d imagine.

However, for pre-2017 wood, or what’s called “Pre-convention” wood, Fish and Wildlife will rely heavily on certified appraisals. I am not really sure exactly what qualifies someone as an expert in these appraisals. I’d imagine that an appraisal from a reliable source in the vintage guitar world would qualify or perhaps experts in forestry. Luthier built instruments can include a notorized statement from the luthier.

Check out a PDF of the permit application here:

It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds. Rosewood is ubiquitous in the guitar world, so some big, sweeping changes in the industry are about to happen.

I would like to follow up this very “nuts-and-bolts” exploration of the topic with another episode exploring the broader societal and philosophical questions I didn’t answer here. Why ALL rosewoods? And what are the implication of this going forward? Stay tuned!

Note: The information in this article is based on my own research from the following sources: Podcast 127 w/ John Thomas

Any and all statements in this article are statements of opinion, not fact. This is not an official source on CITES. For official documentation see or When dealing with international law, you should conduct your own research. This article is merely my opinion of what I believe to be true. Any resemblance to the actual truth or facts is mere coincidence.



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