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Guitar makers hit hard by new regulations on prized rosewood

AP  |  Concord (US) 

An international crackdown on illegal logging in tropical forests has ensnared the makers of some and other musical instruments, whose top-end products require small amounts of rosewood, a material prized for its rich, multicolored grain and resonant sound.

Since new trade rules took effect in 2017, guitar makers have complained about long delays in getting permits to import and export finished instruments that contain it.

Warehouses have filled with unsold instruments, and a bagpipe maker in went so far as to ask the to intervene after a permit application was lost.

"I'm so annoyed. I'm so distraught by this," said Chris Martin, of CF Martin and Co., which uses in 200 models of acoustic guitar, some played by Eric Clapton, Ed Sheeran, Sting and other stars. The company's logistics staff estimates it spends 40 percent of its time dealing with the new regulations.

Fearful that and were losing forests, governments adopted the rules to stem the flow of smuggled rosewood to China's luxury manufacturers. But the restrictions have also hurt companies that use relatively tiny amounts of the in guitars, clarinets and oboes.

Months after the regulations were adopted, acoustic guitar exports from the US fell by about 28 percent, and electric guitar exports declined 23 percent, according to the Trades magazine, an industry publication. retailers reported losing USD 60 million.

At Martin's Pennsylvania-based company, many transactions are stalled: "We have orders for the We have customers. The customers have the money to pay for them, and we can't ship them because the paperwork is stuck somewhere," he said.

Instrument makers such as Martin argue that they use a fraction as much rosewood as Chinese makers - about 50 cubic meters each a year compared with nearly 2 million cubic meters. And, the instrument makers say, they get most of it from sustainable plantations in

The guitar industry's frustration is focused on the United Nation's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES , which is responsible for combating wildlife smuggling. The agency has tangled in the past with instrument makers, mostly over restrictions on ivory, tortoiseshell and whale bone.

Agency officials previously placed trade limits on only a few rosewood species, such as Brazilian rosewood, which is especially precious. But the 2016 trade rules covered up to 300 species of the rosewood family known as Dalbergia.

The new regulations also required permits for products made from the wood, including guitars, violins, bagpipes and xylophones. Many companies that had never needed permits had only three months to comply.

"It was a steep learning curve for these companies," said Timothy Van Norman, of the permit-granting branch of the , which saw its double to 40,000 in 2017 mostly from rosewood.

Bigger guitar companies with more sophisticated were probably quicker to adapt than smaller companies or individuals making a limited number of instruments. "For them, it probably came out of the blue." Taylor , based in El Cajon, California, reported losing tens of thousands of dollars from months-long delays and confusion surrounding its shipments to some 30 countries in the world.

"Each country was suddenly responsible for interpreting what this new rule meant," said Scott Paul, Taylor's

Governments in and proposed the regulations to combat increased rosewood smuggling over the past decade that they said had endangered the species, which is also known for its fragrance, a sweet floral aroma that gives the its name.

Much of the smuggling was orchestrated by criminal gangs that took advantage of lax rules and widespread corruption to strip away forest in Southeast Asia, and The illegal logging also sparked regional conflicts, contributed to desertification and destroyed a key for bees, butterflies and other insects.

The describes the rosewood trade as the world's costliest wildlife crime, with seizures totaling more than almost all other species combined. Between 2005 and 2015, 10,000 metric tons of protected rosewood was seized.

Most of that was headed to China, where rosewood imports jumped 2,000 percent from 2005 to 2014, according to the conservation group Forest Trends . Much of the material went into the making of reproduction hongmu from the Ming and Qing dynasties, a style popular with affluent Chinese.

"These countries didn't want to wait until their tree species are on the verge of extinction before acting to control the trade. They saw what happened in There is almost nothing left," said Susanne Breitkopf, of the nonprofit .

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, April 12 2018. 15:05 IST