A death b(l)ow to international classical live music? The proposed transfer of Pernambuco wood from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I

A death b(l)ow to international classical live music? The proposed transfer of Pernambuco wood from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I


For the upcoming 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), taking place in Panama City, 14-25 November 2022, altogether 52 proposals were tabled that concern the listing of around 600 additional species in the Convention’s Appendices. CITES was adopted to regulate or restrict species which either face extinction due to international trade or which are in danger of facing extinction because of international trade. It currently holds a membership of 184 states.

The three Appendices prohibit international trade and cross-border movement of endangered species (Appendix I); regulate international trade in species in danger of becoming endangered (Appendix II); and concern species that are nationally protected, but for which other Contracting Parties must issue export permits (Appendix III). A contentious proposal was tabled by Brazil, aiming to move Brazil wood (Paubrasilia echinata), commonly known as Pernambuco, from Appendix II to Appendix I, thereby aiming to suspend all international trade in this species.

In this article, we critically examine the proposal in light of the problems an uplisting would cause for internationally travelling musicians and orchestras.

Making amendments to the Appendices

The Conference of the Parties (CoP) serves, inter alia, as a forum to make amendments to the Appendices. In order to do so, amendments to Appendix I and II require a 2/3 majority of the Contracting Parties whereas Appendix III can be amended at the request of the Party under whose domestic legislation the species is protected. In order to change the species listed in Appendix I and II, proposals need to be tabled by one or more Contracting Parties. When tabled, the proposals are to be based on biological and trade considerations, following a specific set of criteria outlined in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP17) (CITES, 2016a). Since, however, CITES resolutions are not legally binding – and therefore the criteria are equally not legally binding either -, in practice, any state can table any proposal which the CoP then votes upon.

Currently, more than 38,700 species are listed on the Appendices. These do not necessarily include merely endangered species, but also so-called ‘lookalike’ species, which are not endangered, but whose resemblance with the species in question might contribute to its decline if traded in.

“spp.” referring to species; “sspp.” referring to subspecies; and “var.” referring to varieties; and “popns” referring to populations. Source: CITES, Undated.

The proposal to uplist Pernambuco

Proposal 49, tabled by Brazil (CITES, 2022a), concerns the uplisting of Brazil wood (Paubrasilia echinata), commonly known as Pernambuco, from Appendix II to Appendix I. The proposal aims to suspend all international trade (in Article I of the Convention defined as export, re-export, import and introduction from the sea) in Pernambuco. The proposed uplisting furthermore includes the following annotation:

“All parts, derivatives and finished products, including bows of musical instruments, except musical instruments and their parts, composing travelling orchestras, and solo musicians carrying musical passports in accordance with Res. 16.8.”

If accepted by the CoP, the inclusion in Appendix I would therefore mean that bows used for string instruments can no longer be moved across borders, unless an export permit, an import permit and a re-export permit have been acquired by the musician prior to cross-border movement. The permits need to be issued by the Scientific and Management Authorities that each state is required to have set up before ratifying the Convention. However, the Convention does not set out how these authorities relate to each other, how they should be structured and which government agencies are to be designated as these authorities. As a consequence, expertise and procedures differ between Parties. Some even have not set up these authorities at all (see Wyatt, 2021, p. 53-54). In practical terms, the issuance of permits for travelling musicians might consequently cause tremendous difficulties.

The proposal essentially revolves around two critical claims: First, it highlights the importance of pernambuco for bows for musical instruments, because of its physical-mechanical characteristics. As a result, especially over the last 200-250 years, intensive deforestation of this species and use in the bow-making industry have led to marked declines in the species. As a consequence, at CoP14 in 2007, P. echinata was included in Appendix II. According to the new proposal, since the habitat of the species is fragmented and the species has further declined since CoP14, the biological criteria have been met, justifying an inclusion in Appendix I.

Second, given the species’ importance for the bow-making industry, it is a much sought-after wood internationally, especially for blanks for the creation of violin, viola, cello and double-bass bows. To this end, annotation #10 of the current Appendix II-listing notes that also “unfinished wood articles used for the fabrication of bows for stringed musical instruments” are included in the listing. It consequently excludes finished bows. The main importers of the species have been identified to be USA, Belgium, Japan, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, France, Taiwan Province of China, China, Canada, Singapore, Slovenia, South Korea, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, Hong Kong SAR, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Austria, and the UK and Northern Ireland. Accordingly, more than 92% of pernambuco are exported for the bow-making industry abroad (CITES, 2022a, p. 6) .

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

in light of the seemingly crucial impact of the bow-making industry on pernambuco populations, an Appendix I listing appears justified as fulfilling the biological and trade criteria. The proposal furthermore stresses the impact of illegal harvesting and trade in this species for the bow-making industry. However, it is rather silent about the conservation benefits of an Appendix I listing, but merely states that “transfer of the species from Appendix II to Appendix I will bring the trade of finished bows under control as well” (CITES, 2022a, p. 8). Nationally, the proposal remarks that an uplisting “will not bring great changes since the Brazilian legislation does not allow the exploitation of the species in nature” (Ibid.).

Analyses of the proposal by both the CITES Secretariat (CITES, 2022b) as well as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the non-governmental organisation TRAFFIC (IUCN/TRAFFIC, 2022) have shown, however, that the proposal leaves out crucial information. For instance, the proposal notes the dwindling habitat of the species. One of the largest habitats of the species is the Atlantic Forest biome. For this biome, however, no data sets are available (CITES, 2022b, p. 126).

The proposal furthermore seems to imply that because of the bow-making industry, habitat loss of this species has occurred. While there is certainly an impact of trade on the species, more than 90% of the habitat have been lost because of deforestation, agriculture, tourist development and urban development. Moreover, much of the timber stemming from pernambuco is discarded as waste by wood manufacturers (IUCN/TRAFFIC, 2022, p. 374; see also Lichtenberg et al., 2022).

Given that the species is protected under Brazilian law in so far as a take from the natural environment is prohibited, the benefits of an Appendix I listing cannot be identified. If the proposal aims to include also finished bows, an amendment to Annotation #10, clarifying the designation of finished bows, appears more reasonable than an inclusion of the species in Appendix I. While international movements would still be possible, the Appendix I listing would generate severe problems ‘on the ground’ for internationally performing musicians.

Impacts on an uplisting on international classical live music

Although musicians enjoy a certain degree of recognition under the CITES regime, the relationship has been strained for many years. This is due to musical instruments oftentimes containing parts of CITES-listed species, such as Brazilian rosewood, ivory or turtle shells (Thomas, 2011, pp. 85-86). In order to make cross-border movement of these species possible, CITES Parties are to issue permits that prove that the instrument or bow was built before the species was included in the Appendices and/or that cross-border movement occurs for non-commercial purposes, such as for “personal use, paid or unpaid performance, display or competition” (CITES, 2016b, p. 2).

In practice this means that individual musicians or orchestras are required to obtain these permits before the travelling takes place. While this ‘musical passport’ appears sensible, it confronts travelling musicians with potentially unforeseeable difficulties. The reason can be found in Article XIV of the Convention which grants CITES Parties the right to impose “stricter domestic measures regarding the conditions for trade, taking, possession or transport” of CITES-listed species. This leads to differing legislation concerning this matter from country to country. Especially in the United States, the EU, Australia and Japan, strict legal instruments are in place, which has oftentimes lead to the confiscation of instruments in the past despite documentation which appears to be legitimate (Thomas, 2011, p. 85).

An Appendix I listing would add yet another layer of administrative hurdles to internationally performing musicians. In Germany alone, approximately 3 million individuals are organised in instrumental groups, choirs or in one of the 121 orchestras (Neue Musikzeitung, 2017; Statista, 2020). An additional requirement to obtain permits and certificates would be perceived as insult to injury and would significantly impede on the capabilities of musicians to travel and perform abroad. At the same time, agencies all over the world would be faced with additional burdens, slowing down other processes. Lastly, if CITES Parties, in accordance with Article XIV, decide to put even stricter measures in place, the number of seizures and confiscations would increase dramatically.


In light of the low conservation benefits, threats beyond international trade, insufficient data and a significant increase in administrative hurdles for travelling musicians, an Appendix I listing of Pernambuco cannot be justified. It remains to be seen whether 2/3 of the CITES Contracting Parties nevertheless consider a listing beneficial for the species. In order to prevent an uplisting, concerted efforts of Parties in favour of international cultural exchange are necessary. Otherwise, such listing could mean a death blow to international live performances, potentially cause economic damage to individuals, and make enforcement and implementation of CITES significantly more difficult.


CITES. (2016a). Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP17). Criteria for amendment of Appendices I and II. https://cites.org/sites/default/files/document/E-Res-09-24-R17.pdf

CITES. (2016b). Resolution Conf. 16.8 (Rev.CoP17). Frequent cross-border non-commercial movements of musical instruments. https://cites.org/sites/default/files/document/E-Res-16-08-R17_0.pdf

CITES. (2022a). Consideration of Proposals for Amendment of Appendices I and II, CoP19 Prop. 49. https://cites.org/sites/default/files/documents/E-CoP19-Prop-49.pdf

CITES. (2022b). Secretariat’s assessment of the proposals to amend Appendices I and II. https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/cop/19/doc/E-CoP19-89-01.pdf

CITES. (Undated). The CITES species. https://cites.org/eng/disc/species.php

IUCN/TRAFFIC. (2022). IUCN and TRAFFIC Analyses of the proposals to amend the CITES Appendices at the 19th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties. https://www.traffic.org/site/assets/files/19065/iucn-traffic-cop19-full-analyses-1.pdf

Lichtenberg, S., E. Huber-Sannwald, J.A. Reyes-Agüero, D. Anhuf & U. Nehren. (2022). Pau-brasil and string instrument bows telecouple nature, art, and heritage. Ecology and Society 27(1):32. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-13047-270132

Neue Musikzeitung. (2017). Mehr als drei Millionen organisierte Musiker in Deutschland. Neue Musikzeitung, 14 February 2017. https://www.nmz.de/kiz/nachrichten/mehr-als-drei-millionen-organisierte-musiker-in-deutschland

Statista. (2020). Anzahl von Orchestern* in Deutschland in den Spielzeiten von 2009/10 bis 2019/20. https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/2828/umfrage/anzahl-der-orchester-in-deutschland/

Thomas, J. (2011). The impact of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora on international cultural musical exchange. In: D.A. Frenkel (Ed.). International Law, Conventions and Justice (pp. 81-92). Athens: Athens Institute for Education and Research.

Wyatt, T. (2021). Is CITES protecting wildlife? Assessing implementation and compliance. Abingdon: Routledge.

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