Monday, 2 June 2014

The Ivory Ban

There's been quite a bit of caffuffle about this recently, but I've been trying to find out a few hard facts about it, since it affects me both as an instrument maker, and a musician who travels with instruments that might be affected.
Basically the US Government is on the point of introducing legislation which will control the movement of certain animal and plant products in and out of the country. ( and within the US, in some states, the right to trade in such materials )
These are basically materials derived from species that are listed under CITES...Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.   
Of course the basic idea behind this legislation is sound and morally unimpeachable. We must protect all species that are endangered, especially those that are being exploited for monetary gain.
The problem arises, for musicians in the way this new legislation might be interpreted.
From the flute players point of view, the two materials which may give difficulty are ivory and rosewood, and it doesn't require that the whole instrument is made from rosewood or ivory... a small piece of either, even as inlay, incurs the ban...the ban being that unless you can prove that the material in question is antique ( over 100 years, verified imported through certain ports, and authenticated by a qualified appraiser), or that the material was legally acquired before a certain date ( for ivory it's Feb 26th 1976 ) then you cannot import or export the instrument to the US, and if you can't meet these criteria then there is a possibility of the instrument being confiscated and destroyed.
You can find the relevant information as put out by the authorities here, and if you google it, there are lots of discussions on music blogs, discussion boards and lists ongoing.
The solution to this is that one is supposed to be able to get a passport for individual instruments, which will allow a musician to travel with an instrument made from or containing the banned materials.
Forms for the passports are available here.
If you read the above links, there are lots of issues that remain unclear. It seems that you may need a separate passport for animal and plant material...they don't seem to have taken into account that they will occur together in many instruments. Verifying that it is antique or pre CITES would seem to be very difficult, many people would not have the relevant documentation, even if it existed, and who is a qualified appraiser? Also the forms seem to be set up for US citizens and no one else.
I E-mailed them at the contact provided seeking clarification a few weeks ago but got nothing back.
Finally, I think what frightens most musicians is that it will be the customs officials at the point of import who will decide if an instrument is legal or not.
 Can you tell the difference between the twenty of so species of rosewood, only one of which is banned? I can't, and I'm working with such timbers for the last 35 years. Can you (or they) tell the difference between elephant ivory, which is illegal, and mammoth ivory which is legal.
Until a few days ago I couldn't do that I can! Have a look here.
For the moment, I'd advise anyone who has any instrument which might possibly incur the ban to leave it at home, until this gets sorted out, and I greatly fear that it is going to take the loss of a very valuable and possibly historically important instrument, to get to that point.
Of course, as traditional flute players playing mainly modern instruments it's not as relevant to us as it is to pipers...they're in big trouble.

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