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CITES backs 'passports' for instruments containing endangered species

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Delegates at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) have accepted a draft resolution to implement a so-called 'musical instrument passport' for musicians to present when crossing international borders. The passport, which will contain details of all protected species (such as ivory and tortoiseshell) within the instrument, will be an optional alternative to the current system of permits.

Under current regulations, musicians carrying such instruments are often required to have a permit to enter a certain country, and then obtain another in order to leave it. A passport, which will be valid for three years, will state that the instrument is ‘owned for personal use and may not be sold, loaned, traded or otherwise disposed of outside the individual’s state of usual residence’.

The draft proposal was originally drawn up by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Tim Van Norman, FWS' branch chief of permits, estimated that the US would begin implementing the resolution 'within 90 days, assuming everything goes as planned, with the whole body of the Convention adopting the resolution'. He added that FWS would also be releasing guidance documents, such as application guides and fact sheets, before implementation begins.

Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy at the League for American Orchestras, welcomed the agreement as an aid to streamlining the complex permit system. However, she stressed, 'It is essential that a passport be voluntary, and take into account the time, expense, and practical realities of travelling with instruments.  It is key that steps are taken today and in the future to educate the music community about how to navigate the permit rules – both those existing CITES requirements and the varying domestic endangered species permit rules for each country, which won’t be covered by the CITES passport concept.' She also stated that the passport concept would not be 'a silver bullet' in itself.

Details such as the likely cost of a passport or the duration of the application process have not yet been disclosed. However, it is acknowledged that not all of the 178 countries represented at the CITES conference will be implementing the passport: Australia, for instance, will not do so because the passport will have to be hand-stamped rather than electronically processed.


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