The 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) took place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from September 24 to October 4, 2016. At the conference, the CITES delegates placed more than 250 species of rosewood on Appendix II, meaning they are subject to stringent international trade restrictions. Of particular relevance to the music products industry, the new restrictions don’t exempt finished products, such as guitars.

One of the guitar industry’s foremost experts on forestry and sustainability issues is Bob Taylor, Founder of Taylor Guitars. GAMA caught up with Taylor to get details about these new regulations, as well as to learn how guitar and accessory makers can proactively address these ever-evolving issues.


GAMA: Was it a surprise that more than 250 species of rosewood were placed on Appendix II? How does this impact the guitar-making industry?

Taylor: It was a big surprise to most of us. We knew they would be looking at rosewood, but we didn’t anticipate a species-wide rule, with no annotations to exempt finished products. From this, we can conclude that using tropical woods will be more complicated than ever. We can probably expect more woods to be added.


GAMA: How do you explain the lack of an annotation to exempt finished goods?

Taylor: The authors and promoters of this CITES listing decided not to apply an annotation to exempt finished products because they felt it would allow too many loopholes, which cheaters could exploit. They felt this was a better protection of the wood. For example, a common practice is to take rosewood lumber, put a tongue and groove slot down each side, and call it flooring. Because flooring is considered a finished or semi-finished product, it could pass without CITES permits. The authors want to avoid that type of loophole.


GAMA: These restrictions will have substantial implications for shipping musical instruments internationally. Clarify to whom they will apply.

Taylor: It covers commercial shipments that cross a country’s border. For instance, if you sell a guitar from the U.S. to a buyer in Canada, you must have an export permit for the U.S. and an import permit for Canada. If you travel with your guitar for a performance, that’s not considered a commercial transaction. If you send a guitar for repair, that’s considered commercial in some places; in other places, it’s not. Countries are still working that out.


GAMA: Are there notable exemptions?

Taylor: Mexico has an exemption. If the wood originated in Mexico, and they make a product in Mexico, that product—not raw wood—doesn’t require a CITES permit. There’s also a 10kg weight exemption for a traveler with a finished product. So, if you carry your guitar to the EU to play and enjoy, or to perform with, you’re exempt.


GAMA: What proactive steps have you begun to take in response to the changing worldwide regulatory landscape?

Taylor: At Taylor, we’re taking more control of our supply. We’re directly planting ebony in Cameroon with our partner, Madinter, and koa in Hawaii with our partner, Pacific Rim Tonewoods (PRT). We’re looking for more opportunities to plant. We’re also working more deliberately than ever to use all our resources with care. In addition, we’ve teamed with PRT to use maple much more than in the past. To do that, we redesigned our 600 Series, which has been a big success. Meanwhile, PRT is planting figured maple.


GAMA: Over the next couple of years, what proactive measures would you like to see being taken?

Taylor: We cannot help the tropical forests until, and unless, we plant trees and slow down the cutting. However, we aren’t in control of the wood that is cut. Taylor, however, feels that at least we can plant. We can also use more woods that aren’t from the tropics. Customers can help by giving those guitars a serious look. If readers feel we should preserve rosewood, they can choose not to buy rosewood. Check out maple guitars, for instance.


GAMA: Explain how conservationism and commerce can be brought into harmony.

Taylor: In a word: Plant! If people had been planting for the last 100 years, we’d have 100-year-old trees ready now. But nobody really did that with tropical timbers. Commerce is a great reason to plant and care for the forest, and the forest can provide wood forever if we do. Another way is to do the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) model, whereby the logging of a forest is sustainable because the logging plan is low enough in impact that it allows the forest to grow at the rate it’s being cut. For this to work, you need an intact, viable forest; unfortunately, many have already been exploited of the usable species. So, planting is needed. People in commerce must put their resources into the forest in a way that helps it re-grow and prevents it from being over-cut.


Click here for more information from NAMM about this evolving topic.