Commodities markets

Review: Rosewood Restrictions Riled U.S. Guitar Makers

In 2017, a bizarre amendment to an international treaty threw American guitar makers into a panic.


In 2017, an amendment to an international treaty threw American guitar makers into a panic. In order to stop the overharvesting of rosewood for use in Chinese furniture, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was updated to impose permit requirements for all 183 treaty member states on all international movement of all products containing any amount of rosewood. Rosewood crossing borders without such a permit was now contraband.

U.S. guitar manufacturers, whose product lines prior to this often contained small amounts of the wood (which instrument makers love for its natural oils, stunning dark grain, and historical importance), worried about the legality of shipping instruments to countries where it had been perfectly fine to do so just months before. Retailers, buyers, and traveling musicians now had to fret about guitars being seized in global transit.

The answer to these concerns, CITES advocates said, was simple: Just get the permit. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was inundated with CITES permit applications, and agency turnaround times stretched for months. American guitar exports plummeted—28 percent for acoustics and 23 percent for electrics, according to Music Trades magazine.

Manufacturers, many of them preservationists, were distraught. "We have orders for the guitars. We have customers. The customers have the money to pay for them, and we can't ship them because the paperwork is stuck somewhere," Chris Martin, chairman and CEO of C.F. Martin & Co., told the Associated Press in April 2018.

After nearly two years of compliance confusion and major losses by instrument companies, the U.N. in October 2019 announced that CITES had been amended once again, this time to exempt finished musical instruments containing rosewood—minus Brazilian rosewood, banned since 1992—from the treaty requirements.