The League of American Orchestras is attempting to renegotiate transportation rules as part of a larger CITES shake-up


The League of American Orchestras is preparing to renegotiate rules for the transportation of musical instruments as part of a larger shake up of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which covers 180 countries.

CITES is due to be redrawn in the autumn of 2016 and the League is duly asking its US representatives ‘to pursue exemptions, harmonise international policies, and improve guidance as musicians struggle to comply with newly-enforced permit requirements for international travel with musical instruments that contain protected species material like ivory, rosewood, sea turtle and lizard.’

The League is pointing to recently changed Swiss rules, which state that travellers to and from that country may now ‘import/export portable musical instruments for personal use without formalities’ – including those used for concerts and teaching, and those on loan.

The American League is hoping that this policy might be adopted by the US and other CITES countries in the future, meaning there would be no need for a CITES permit to accompany legally-made antique instruments and bows containing ivory. A statement on its website reads:

‘The League is in ongoing dialogue with other national music organizations, conservation groups, and federal officials, in pursuit of policy solutions that meet urgent conservation needs while also protecting international cultural exchange’

In early 2014 regulations were introduced by the Obama Administration, intended to protect African elephants by combating illegal trade in ivory. The result was that any instrument purchased since February 26, 1976 that contained African elephant ivory – including ivory-tipped bows – would be prohibited from entering the US. The rules did not make allowances for vintage instruments which were legally manufactured years before the ivory ban.

In May 2014 the regulations were amended so that a musical instrument that contains African elephant ivory may now be brought into the US if the ivory was legally acquired prior to February 26, 1976; the instrument has not been bought or sold since February 25, 2014; and the musical instrument qualifies for and is accompanied by a valid CITES certificate.

However, the system has proven very complicated and led to the confiscation of a number of legally purchased instruments and bows by customs officials – even those containing no ivory.

Read The Strad's opinion piece: The US ivory ban risks criminalising hard-working musicians.

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