On March 14 the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met this past week in Bangkok, Thailand and voted in favor of a measure that establishes a document (similar to a passport) issued to an owner of an instrument containing materials that are banned in today’s instrument manufacturing. Back in 2007 there were some conversations about such a passport system for instruments but it was rejected. Various manufacturers as well as NAMM put their muscle behind the issue and pushed the US delegates of CITES to put forth a proposal that actually was ratified this week. Here is the letter NAMM sent in January of 2012. Clearly, NAMM was in favor of the measure because it was their view traveling with vintage instruments was impractical at best.
Here’s the basic idea of the instrument passport: “The proposed Certificate of Ownership would have the same format as the one currently used by Parties for documents issued in accordance with Resolution Conf. 10.20 and would require exporting and importing Parties to validate the document at each border crossing, much like what is done for passports for foreign travellers.”
Banned materials include Brazilian rosewood (Appendix I category – the strictest control) and anyone who knows about guitars knows it is found on the fret boards on the bodies of vintage guitars.
There are other Appendix I banned materials found in vintage instruments, such as ivory. If you travel with those guitars out of the country today they can be confiscated due to violating the CITES laws and possibly kept, or subjected to destructive testing to determine the materials used. Most of the articles discussing the ‘passport’ measure cite the problems traveling orchestras have moving in and out of countries easily with their instruments and how this will make it easier for them.
The passport would be effective for three years. I would presume it would involve a photograph of the instrument and a serial number on the passport that matches the instrument’s serial number (assuming it has a serial number…some vintage instruments don’t). It wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles, and the measure is so new that it’s not completely clear, how instruments will be identified. But, I hope they don’t resort to requiring any sort of identification to be put on the instrument itself. That would be a tragedy. It’s all bad enough that the instrument might need to be tracked with a passport. If you look at this language in the measure, it sure sounds like if the instrument does not have any reliable self-identifying marks, one might need to be added! “the Parties concerned require that the musical instrument be securely marked or otherwise appropriately identified and that this mark or a description thereof be included on the certificate of ownership so that the authorities of the State into which the musical instrument enters can verify that the certificate corresponds to the musical instrument in question;”
The measure specifically excludes instruments that are “not be sold, transferred, loaned or otherwise disposed of while outside the owner’s usual State of residence”. It goes on to clarify in no uncertain terms: “the owner may not sell or otherwise transfer the musical instrument when travelling outside of their State of usual residence;” This certainly would even more of a damper on cross-border buying and selling of instruments with banned materials – even though they were made prior to the materials restrictions and are perfectly legal instruments.