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CITES - What every bass player should know

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Turnaround, Apr 24, 2014.

  1. scotch

    scotch It's not rocket science! Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2006
    Albany, NY USA
    Please see Profile for Endorsement disclosures
    I work for a Canadian artist that hires a lot of musicians from the States. We fly to Canada multiple times a year for shows & are doing yet another full tour where we have a box truck leaving Nashville with gear and guitars bound for the border. Ever since CITES changed to cover rosewood, etc there has been zero confiscations of our instruments.

    Could it happen? I guess... but I will tell you there are musicians travelling across the Canadian border every week on trucks, buses, and planes who aren't anywhere near as worried about this stuff as a few posters on talkbass are.

    That said, should you risk shipping your pre war Martin with a Brazilian board from Hoboken to Saskatchewan? Of course you shouldn't!!!! But CITES is the the least of your worries in this scenario. If you're an importer exporter moving multiple board feet of wood at a time across the border, that's entirely different, but how many if us is that realistically?

    I am NOT telling everyone there is zero chance of a border seizure of your instrument. I AM saying that for most working musicians traveling with a guitar there just hasn't been the horror story situations that this thread proposes.

    As I type this, I have two rosewood board basses headed to Calgary. One is a 62 reissue Jazz that I guess could be mistaken for an old Fender with Brazilian. I'm not concerned in the least about CITES seizures.
    Funk Fashion, Jim Carr, GregC and 3 others like this.
  2. s_wood

    s_wood Gold Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Mar 23, 2003
    Delaware (USA)
    CITES is supposed to exempt instruments containing less than 10kg of one of the covered woods when the instrument is traveling non-commercially (meaning it’s not traveling as the result of a sale). So, most of the CITES horror stories relate to a bass that’s being shipped as part of a sale. If you are traveling with a bass that you own and aren’t selling you will probably be ok so long as it doesn’t contain Brazilian rosewood and you can show that it was made before Jan. 2, 2017 (which was the effective date of the expansion of the CITES protected species list to cover basically all rosewoods, including cocobolo and bubinga).

    Like Scotch said above, the risk that a customers inspector in the US or Canada will wrongly decide that your bass contains Brazilian rosewood (which basically can’t cross borders for any reason anymore) is probably pretty small.
    It’s important to remember that it’s up to each individual country to decide how to enforce CITES, so what’s true about US or Canadian customs may not be true anywhere else.

    There are some horror stories, but they are few and far between. The risk is not zero, though, and if it happens you are screwed. Your bass will be cofiscated right then and there. But, if you have a CITES instrument passport (search this thread for details) the risk becomes zero, at least in North America and the Eurozone. Think of it as insurance on your gear - you probably won’t need it, but if something goes wrong and you don’t have it your life will get much worse.

    You do have insurance on your gear, right? Wait: that’s a different thread.... :)
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2019
    GregC and scotch like this.
  3. Jeff Scott

    Jeff Scott Rickenbacker guru.......... Supporting Member

    Apr 11, 2006
    FIFY :woot:
    BioDriver likes this.
  4. Tom Bomb

    Tom Bomb Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2019
    StayLow likes this.
  5. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    I've just discovered that there's a draft proposal to amend the CITES regulations with regard to musical instruments. An exception is proposed to annotation #15, with regard to:

    "finished musical instruments, finished musical instrument parts and finished musical instrument accessories"

    On the face of it, this would seem to indicate that we might get a relaxation of the current rules, allowing instruments containing rosewood to be freely shipped internationally once more.

    Mind you, this is only a proposal as yet - as far as I can tell, it'll be put to a vote at the World Wildlife conference in Sri Lanka in late May or early June, and even if it passes, there's no telling when the new regulations will come into effect. So it's still early days. The draft proposal can be found here:

    Proposals for amendment of Appendices I and II - CoP18 | CITES
    GregC, gebass6, 12BitSlab and 3 others like this.
  6. Axstar


    Jul 8, 2016
    East of Eden.
    This makes sense, and will take a lot of stress off many musicians. I was a bit surprised and unhappy with how easily I was able to buy a bass which contained a fair chunk of rosewood (NBD - Chinese "Dan Armstrong Ampeg" counterfeit.) versus the hoops that more legitimate manufacturers had to jump through.

    Plus, from memory, all of this was done to stem the tide of cheap rosewood furniture of a particular style coming out of China? Fretboards really are a drop in the ocean.

    Maybe the upside of CITES is that open-minded manufacturers have looked into more sustainable species of wood, or synthetic products, that can be used as alternatives?
  7. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    I think it’s a very good thing that trade with endangered species is strictly regulated, and it’s important that woods are ethically and sustainably sourced. But as you say, fretboards are a drop in the ocean, and, as long as the wood is properly sourced, current regulations are just creating a lot of extra work and expense for everyone without improving the protection for endangered species, so it’s sensible to make an exception in he case of musical instruments. We’ll see how things go in the coming months.
    Axstar likes this.
  8. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    There are some proposals to amend CITES as indicated in previous posts. And I also note that there have been a number of posts from folks who have regularly crossed the border between Canada and USA with instruments containing rosewood without incident.

    But I would like to remind folks here that I have direct experience with two instruments coming from the USA that were held at the Canadian border. Both had Cocobolo, part of the genus Dalbergia (rosewoods). Things seem to be improving, but I wouldn't count on a smooth transit yet. It is still good practice to contact the authorities in home and destination countries to check their requirements. Every signatory country has different implementation of the CITES convention - some require particular documentation, others are less stringent.
  9. steve_rolfeca

    steve_rolfeca Supporting Member

    Hi, Richard.

    Out of curiosity, what happened to those two instruments? Were they just delayed, or sent to the wood chipper?

    The element that first really put the chill on border transit for Canadian luthiers, was having new instruments destroyed after being intercepted in transit, with no recourse whatsoever.

    In at least one case that I'm aware of, it wasn't even over rainforest lumber. One of Sergei de Jonge's guitars had relatively modest shell inlays, and the private buyer didn't know that a recent change in enforcement policy required him to have a US Fish and Wildlife importer's license.

    They weren't even given any warning over what was happening. Sergei first heard from the customer as a routine query about a delayed delivery, and it took some searching at both ends before they were able to figure out what had happened.

    IIRC, that license was easy to get, and only cost about $100. Even though customs had only just started enforcing the legislation, and there was clearly no bad intent on Sergei and his customer's end, they were advised that there was no appeal, no opportunity to pay a fine, and not even an option to return the item to the country of origin.

    The customs guy's comment to Sergei, was that he didn't have to worry, he hadn't done anything wrong at his end. That's cold comfort when a beautiful and expensive hand-made artifact has just been destroyed.

    I'd like to think that this sort of thing rarely occurs, but still, that is the absolute worst-case nightmare for anyone transporting or trading an instrument that is unique or has sentimental value.
    Last edited: Jan 31, 2019
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  10. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    The instruments were held up at the Canadian border for a while. They had the proper documentation from the USA but the Canadian border official wasn't happy with the paperwork. The original CITES permit had cost the builder about $150 but then they had to go through the American authorities again and get them to talk to the Canadian officials to get it worked out. That cost the builder an additional chunk of unproductive time. It took weeks to sort it out and could have gone really badly had not the builder stepped in and raised a fuss.

    So the instruments live on. But there sure was a lot of hassle involved.
  11. JakobT


    Jan 9, 2014
    Oslo, Norway
    There are several other things that can make a difference. One is whether the instrument is new or old, another is whether musician and instrument travel together.

    I have traveled internationally with basses with rosewood fretboards on a number of occasions without incident. The basses in question have all predated the CITES ban on rosewood, and are therefore exempt, and I’ve always carried documentation to that effect, but never had to present it.

    Had I shipped them separately, things would have been very different, I’m sure. And if they had been NEW instruments shipped from a builder or store, they would probably have been subjected to very close scrutiny.

    So you are quite right, it does not do to assume anything, and until any amendments to CITES have come into effect, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
    GregC likes this.
  12. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Even if an instrument's manufacture pre-dates CITES you can still run into problems. In talking to one Canadian border inspector that I know quite well, if the inspector has any inkling that you might be selling the instrument abroad they can stop the instrument at the border. The inspectors can make it quite difficult for you. They might ask why you are travelling with an instrument - is it for work? Do you have a work permit?

    The border inspectors are onto the dodges that are often tried. Back in the 60's I was in a band that needed a new PA. We were in Toronto and found that the equipment we wanted was a lot cheaper in Buffalo than here in Toronto. So we loaded our PA gear with dead speakers and a blown-out amp and made the crossing to Buffalo. We managed to get into the States with a bit of hassle, but they eventually let us through on the understanding that we were doing a one-nighter at the university. But they recorded the serial numbers of all the gear we were taking into the USA. We bought the gear we wanted in Buffalo and removed the serial number plates from it and affixed the same from out busted gear, dumped the broken stuff and came back home. We were held up at the border again as they had flagged us on our trip into the US and they checked the gear we were bringing back. They were smart enough to realize that we might be shopping south of the border. But we were lucky enough to outsmart them on the serial number plaques.

    We were taking a big risk at the time when none of us had any money and the band could barely pay for gas for the trip and buy the new PA. But we got away with it.

    The question for me now is would I want to risk my prized bass to the smartness or lack thereof of a border guard who just had an argument with his girlfriend and his wife found out. All it would take is for him to "suspect" that I was intending to sell the instrument across the border. He has the power. You have none.
    JakobT, ajkula66 and BlueTalon like this.
  13. BlueTalon

    BlueTalon Happy Cynic

    Mar 20, 2011
    Spokane, Washington
    Endorsing Artist: Turnstyle Switch
    That's always the key unknowable variable. The agent may or may not be competent, may or may not be knowledgeable, and may or may not be having a good day.
    Scribbler likes this.
  14. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    Didn't know where to put this, so I put it here.

    Article on Music Radar saying the big boys (Fender, Taylor, PRS, Martin) are formally requesting an exemption for rosewood on musical instruments. The argument is musical instruments became collateral casualties under an act intended to restrict illegal logging in the furniture industry.

    Be interesting to see how their argument plays out at the upcoming CITES meeting in May 2019.

    Article here: Rosewood could return to low-cost guitars this year | MusicRadar
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
  15. We will see how this develops. It would be nice if they are successful. Maybe they can also challenge bubinga and cocobolo for instrument use.
  16. 40Hz

    40Hz Supporting Member

    I’m amazed occupational health regs haven’t nixed using cocobolo already.
    Fun Size Nick likes this.
  17. Sadowsky

    Sadowsky Commercial User

    Nov 1, 2000
    New York City
    Owner: Sadowsky Guitars Ltd.
    Even with the expansion of the Rosewood CITES restrictions, it only applies to commercial transactions......not to personal instruments.
  18. Insurance? It’s more like a protection racket.
  19. Turnaround

    Turnaround Commercial User

    May 6, 2004
    Toronto Canada
    Independent Instrument Technician, and Contractor to Club Bass and Guitar - Toronto
    Unless you are selling your personal instrument across a border. That's considered a commercial transaction.
  20. francoprof

    francoprof Supporting Member

    Oct 22, 2009
    Ottawa, Canada
    For what it's worth, I recently sold and shipped an American made bass with a rosewood fretboard to a TB buddy in the US (personal transaction). Prior to that, I got a CITES certificate for it in Canada (it took 4 weeks to get it). When it arrived at destination with UPS, the US Customs services didn't even bother opening the envelope with the certificate, let alone look at it or stamp it. But I played it safe - and the buyer didn't mind the wait as he wanted to play it safe as well.

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