[UPDATE] Will New Rosewood Trade Restrictions Have Implications for Acoustic Guitarists?

At a wildlife summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, delegates representing 181 countries agreed to get serious about the illegal rosewood trade.
A stack of illegally harvested rosewood logs in Madagascar

UPDATE: Luthiers Mercantile International, one of the world’s leading suppliers of exotic tonewoods, released a statement saying that they and other distributors will not be able to sell any rosewood internationally, unless a future annotation makes finished products—such as a pre-carved guitar neck or kerfing—exempt. “We hope to know more soon. Unfortunately, without such an annotation, the import and export of instruments with rosewood components would be affected,” writes sales manager Chris Herrod.

“The market is rife with dishonesty, even within established businesses that enjoy a positive reputation in the United States. Indian Rosewood has always been the welcome exception. We regret that it has to be grouped with the other species of rosewood, but by lumping all the rosewoods together it removes the responsibility of customs officials from having to distinguish between the different species of rosewood, which can often be very difficult.”



At a global wildlife summit held this week in Johannesburg, South Africa, delegates representing 181 countries agreed to get serious about the illegal rosewood trade, The Guardian reported earlier today. Rosewood is, of course, a popular tonewood used in the manufacture of guitars, and — according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime — is the world’s most trafficked wild product.

For a discussion of the legal implications of owning a guitar constructed of Brazilian rosewood — taped last month in advance of the Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) summit — watch above as Michael Watts, of the London-based North American Guitar company, interviews John Thomas, a guitar-playing law professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut.

According to The Guardian:

Governments have launched a crackdown on the rampant billion-dollar trade in rosewood timber that is plundering forests across the planet to feed a booming luxury furniture market in China.

The Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) summit on Thursday placed all 300 species of rosewood under trade restrictions, meaning criminals can no longer pass off illegally logged species as legitimate.

Rosewood is the world’s most trafficked wild product, according to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, accounting for a third of all seizures by value, more than elephant ivory, pangolins, rhino horn, lions and tigers put together.

The story also points out that, currently, guitarists who own instruments with sustainable rosewood parts will not be adversely affected.  However, that could change if Cites revisits the new rules in sessions next week:

Some rosewood species can still be logged under the new rules, but will require permits that should only be granted if it is deemed sustainable. The rules could be revisited in the final CITES session next week, but this is unlikely. Rosewood is also used to make some musical instruments, such as guitars, but the new rules will not prevent musicians travelling with their instruments.

Stay tuned, as AG will continue to follow this story.

Mark Kemp
Mark Kemp

Former AG editor Mark Kemp is the author of Dixie Lullaby: A Story of Music, Race, and New Beginnings in a New South (Simon & Schuster, 2004; University of Georgia Press, 2006).