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CITES Restrictions on Travelling with Instruments or Bows

Many of you will be aware that the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has placed restrictions on several materials that are frequently found in orchestral stringed instruments and their bows.

This short article is intended to alert the reader to the basic problems that could be encountered with international travel or simple import / export arrangements.  However the relevant legislation is exceedingly complex and covering it fully is beyond the scope of this article so, if you have any doubts about any proposed travel, please contact your CITES Management Authority.  Contact details are listed at the end of the article.

As a bit of background information, CITES is a multi-lateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals, and legislation enacted in its name is binding on all member parties.  Member countries may exceed the restrictions set by CITES but, in theory, may not fall below the set standard (this can cause additional problems for the unwary traveller as we will see later).

CITES employs a number of different categories for listing materials, depending on the perceived threat to the various endangered species.  As a loose explanation, there are three appendices:

Appendix III is the lowest level and may, for example, be enacted voluntarily by a member country who wishes to impose an export ban on an endemic endangered species leaving their country.

Appendix II is ratified by the member parties.  Species falling into this category will face some restrictions on international trade.  Occasionally an annotation in the legislation will permit some trade, for example finished articles may be exempted whilst trade in the raw material may be restricted.

Appendix I is the strictest and, in general, no Appendix I listed material is allowed to be exported out of, or imported into, any member country without a special permit from the exporting country’s CITES Management Authority.  Such a permit will only be issued if certain very strict criteria are met.  Many instruments and bows will be eligible for a permit based on the historic (pre-convention) nature of the materials.

At the moment, to our knowledge, there are several materials which are regularly found in orchestral stringed instruments and their bows.  The following list may not be exhaustive, if you are concerned, be sure to check with your CITES Management Authority.

Cites appendix listings

The first thing to understand at this point is that it is not illegal to own these materials (providing they have been legally acquired); there may simply be some restrictions on travelling or sending them internationally.  It is also OK to buy and sell items containing these materials within the country, only importing or exporting (e.g. travelling with) certain of these materials may present problems.

One or both of the first two materials on the list, ebony and pernambuco, are found on virtually every instrument or bow of any quality.  Thankfully, both these materials have an annotation in their Appendix II listing exempting finished products from restrictions.

The remaining five materials on that list will require an export permit from your CITES Management Authority if you are to take it out of the country, no exceptions!

We have heard musicians say “Oh, I’ve never bothered with that and I’ve had no problems”.  That’s a bit like saying, “I always drive home from the pub after a few beers and I haven’t been caught yet”.  It’s your choice of course, but it is illegal to cross international borders with Appendix I listed materials without appropriate permits.  Penalties can be very high; not least, instruments and bows can be impounded, so beware!

OK, you’ve obtained your various permits from the CITES Management Authority and are currently enjoying  your tour or holiday abroad … guess what? … you can’t come home!  You have to do it all again because CITES pre-convention permits are valid for one trip only.  It is illegal to transport these materials across international borders without a valid export / re-export permit from the exporting country and so you will have to apply to the CITES Management Authority in the country you are visiting for a re-export permit to get home.  If you intend to visit several different countries, be aware that you should acquire a re-export permit from each country in turn as you prepare to leave.

Thankfully, most of these permit applications can be done on-line, but the relevant authorities require time to process applications so get in early and be prepared for at least a four week delay before a permit is issued.

It was mentioned earlier that countries may exceed CITES restrictions and, at the moment, the USA have very strict rules for the import of elephant ivory.  It would be best to contact the U.S. authorities before travelling for current information.  Also, it may be illegal to cross U.S. state borders with elephant ivory so enquire of the U.S. authorities about this if you intend to travel inter-state.

Some of you may have heard of musical instrument certificates (MICs) or “passports”.  These are only currently in use in the E.U., Switzerland and the USA and at present they are not functioning seamlessly between these parties.  However, they represent a major step forward and when the ‘bugs’ can be ironed out and if these certificates become universally accepted by all parties to CITES then this will take a huge burden off musicians and CITES Management Authorities alike in terms of compliance and policing.

MICs (instrument passports) are not issued in Australia or New Zealand for the present so if you intend to travel with or export any Appendix I listed material, you must obtain a standard CITES permit.

It all sounds difficult, but the current circumstances for some endangered species is a little grim and these restrictions are necessary, however, authorities in general are aware that the materials in instruments and bows are, for the most part, historical in nature and do not present a current threat to endangered species.  The USA in fact has very forward thinking proposals in train which will hopefully alleviate some of the hassles for travelling musicians without undermining conservation efforts.  
It may take a little time for these ideas to be implemented so be patient, comply as best possible with restrictions and, if you must travel with CITES Appendix I listed materials, apply for your permit early.

It may be tempting to reduce your risk or compliance hassles by having original CITES Appendix listed materials removed or replaced.
Please don’t do this.  Makers, repairers and restorers should, in any case, refuse to unnecessarily remove original material from valuable or culturally important objects.  Once original material has been removed it can’t be replaced and the overall significance and value of the object is irreversibly diminished.  A far better idea, where practical, is to use an alternative instrument or bow whilst touring or travelling that does not contain CITES Appendix I listed parts or materials.  Your local violin or bow maker / restorer should be able to assist you with identification of listed materials or point you in the right direction to obtain instruments or bows which will be user-friendly in this respect.

In closing, please be aware that circumstances can change, materials can be “upgraded” to a stricter appendix listing depending on the perceived threat so check in regularly in News Items on the Alex W Grant Violins web site (www.grantviolins.com.au) as well as on the AVMA website (AVMA News and Events) for any news. This information should be valid for the next nine months or so (until early 2017) but, if in doubt, for current authoritative information, contact your CITES Management Authority.

CITES Management Authorities for Australian and New Zealand:
Australia : wildlifetrade@environment.gov.au  
New Zealand : rhay@doc.govt.nz

The following link will take you to a universal list of CITES Management Authorities

Follow this link for an Australian online permit application

MAY 2016