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Finding a Way Forward Together

The wood we use for bow making, known as Paubrasilia echinata, or pernambuco, has been in severe decline for many years. Over the last two decades, nurseries in Brazil have been set up to save the tree from its threatened status. Some of these new trees will be replanted in coastal forest regions and others will provide stocks of wood for future sustainable use.

For the last fifteen years, pernambuco wood has enjoyed a level of protection on CITES Appendix II. This was intended to control trade in the raw material while allowing unrestricted trade in finished bows. It also allowed musicians to travel with their bows across international borders.

But last year, the Brazilian authorities requested stricter international legislation regarding the trade in Pernambuco and their proposal went to the 19th CITES Conference of Parties in Panama, to be voted on by the world’s CITES parties.

I’ll keep this short. This mini blog tries to address three questions: What were the proposals? What was the outcome? And what does this mean for us going forward?

Since the 2007 CITES legislation there has unfortunately still been illegal smuggling of pernambuco wood out of Brazil. And in light of dwindling natural stocks, Brazil proposed to have the species put on CITES Appendix I, the strictest level of protection, and only used for species most severely threatened with extinction. Trade in any goods from that species for commercial purposes, would be prohibited. The only exceptions would be goods that could be proven to be ‘pre-convention’ (ie. from before the date that Pernambuco came under CITES controls) or proven to be from artificially propagated trees – in which case the goods could be traded subject to permits for every cross-border movement.

No wonder we were in a state of panic.

There was much negotiation regarding the way trade could be regulated by Brazil. It was agreed that an outright ban was only one option, and there were alternative ways forward which would be effective without causing such a catastrophe in the musical world. One idea of interest is a traceability or marking system to link new bows to legally acquired wood stocks.

The outcome was that the status of pernambuco wood is largely unchanged. It remains on CITES Appendix II. Makers can still make and musicians can still buy bows. However, all products made of Pernambuco leaving Brazil are subject to CITES permits, without an exception for finished bows. The revised annotation that is now attached to the species listing on Appendix II is intended to help Brazil control the trade at the border, as the wood is endemic to Brazil.

Leigh-Anne Bullough, a UK CITES Scientific Officer explains that the new annotation ‘… essentially captures the whole trade of all goods made from Pernambuco – raw wood, bow blanks, finished bows etc. This will mean an export permit will be needed for any goods leaving Brazil made from Paubrasilia. For countries that require it, you would also then need an import permit (UK & EU under stricter measures). This would be in the first instance of exporting from Brazil. However, any further movements once outside of Brazil (re-exports) would be exempt from permitting requirements.’ So, once pernambuco products have been legally imported to a given country, they can then be re-exported without further permits.

This outcome was reached through negotiating additional ‘decisions’ – actions to be undertaken by different groups in the period before the next Conference of the Parties. One such decision stipulates that finding a way to register and trace bows must be explored. We need to be able to show that a particular bow came from a particular shipment of wood, for which a maker has legal documentation.

I don’t know how this is possible.

But we have to come up with something workable in the next three years, because if we do not the original proposal may be submitted again at the next Conference of Parties, and may not be defeated a second time. Musicians, bow makers, instrument dealers - everyone who would be affected by a ban on the wood (which could be just as strict as the ban on elephant ivory) - must work together to find a way forward.

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