At a meeting in Geneva today, the treaty organization that shook the music industry with new trade regulations on rosewood took formal action to clarify and potentially ease some of the regulations.
Rosewood is a prized "tonewood" used for musical instruments from guitars to clarinets and oboes.
The treaty cracked down on the material's international movements late last year to combat worldwide depletion of rosewood trees, driven by China's burgeoning demand for rosewood furniture.
We reported that the regulations had burdened traveling orchestras and the musical instruments industry with a confusing and complex permit system that put musicians in fear of losing beloved instruments, which also resulted in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in guitar sales this year.
The standing committee of the treaty, called the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), recommended countries around the world not require permits from orchestras crossing their borders with shipments of instruments made with the types of rosewood targeted by the new regulations.
Among rosewood's applications are the tuning pegs and tailpieces of cellos, the bodies of clarinets and the fingerboards and bodies of guitars.
League of American Orchestras lobbyist Heather Noonan called the move a first step, but pointed out that each of the world's governments will still have to adopt and apply the new guidelines – which say countries should not consider traveling orchestra's movements as commercial activities requiring permits. The United States does not view traveling for performance as commercial, but an ongoing concern has been that other countries do.
Noonan said that for now, orchestras should remain careful until they know that other countries are on the same page.
"They should check with the authorities in each country to which they're traveling to be sure they're implementing these exemptions in the same way we expect the United States will," Noonan said.
In addition to the orchestras, the musical instruments industry and individual instrument owners got some relief as well.
While both must still must abide by the same international permit requirements to move instruments around the world, they did get one thing they had been asking for: The committee recommended that instruments sent across borders for repair, say from Canada to the United States, not require permits either.
They recommended that such transactions be included under the same exemption for "non-commercial" movements, since the owner of the instrument stays the same.
Scott Paul, director of natural resource sustainability for California-based Taylor Guitars, said in an interview from Geneva that the committee recommendations were positive developments. But he remained cautious, saying his company ships guitars to dozens of countries.
"It's important to understand that CITES is an international convention and that these are recommendations," Paul said. "In general these rules are followed, but in practice any country can choose to interpret [them] differently."
Instrument manufacturers have said they share the convention's conservation goals, and that they have a vested interest in making sure the world doesn't run out of rosewood.
But, they say finished musical instruments don't present a real conservation threat and want them to be exempt from the rosewood permit requirements.
They're expected to continue making those arguments at the next full meeting of the CITES convention in 2019.