21 May 2014

Update - Ivory rules relaxed - sort of.

OK, ivory-ban followers:
There is good news, and there is bad news. 

In February, the US announced new regulations that would ban trade in just about all elephant ivory. This is not precisely a US law; it is a law on how to implement the CITES, an international treaty that outlaws trafficking in elephant ivory (and other endangered species). We all agree that elephant conservation is a Good Thing. The issue, from a luthier's perspective,  has been with the implementation.

Bows historically had a tiny bit of ivory on the tip. The US has had a ban on the import of elephant ivory since 1976. Since then, virtually all new bows have been made with bone tips, or with legal fossil ivory. A few makers have been using up their old stock of pre-ban ivory. But no elephants have been killed to provide ivory for bows.

This new law tightens the regulations. They made ANY trade in ivory illegal - even domestically - and left a very small exception for antique ivory, which they defined as 100 years old. Unfortunately, many of the recognized masters of bow making lived in the last half of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century. Think of an artist like Picasso - a recognized master, but many of his works are considerably less than 100 years old.

And so the music world protested. No one wants to disregard elephant slaughter, but these bits of ivory will not cause the death of any more elephants, and to remove the tips would be like removing the red pigment from a Picasso. Maybe you can replace the red pigment, but you risk damaging the art and the result is no longer a pristine Picasso. So too with replacing the tip of a Sartory.

The government has actually been quite willing to be reasonable, and has been negotiating with representatives of various musical associations, notably the League of American Orchestras. However, there is also a very strong lobby of animal protection groups, who feel (without much data to support this view, IMO) that ANY ivory trade encourages poaching.

---- And so on to the news: ----

Good news: 

The government is relaxing the ban on the transport across borders of instruments containing tiny bits of ivory (as in violin bow tips).  It IS possible to get a permit, as long as the ivory is pre-ban (before Feb 1976), and you can provide acceptable documentation.

Bad news: 

First, you must get CITES documents, which may be impossible to do.  Second, you must not have bought the instrument after Feb of this year (2014).

The requirement that the ivory be pre-ban is quite sensible. Since the ban, it has been illegal to import ivory, so any post-ban ivory is contraband, and they don't want to allow the legal transport of contraband. Unfortunately, to get CITES documents, you must show a chain of legal events, including export documentation from the country of origin, and documentation of legal import into the US. Unfortunately, this need was not on the horizon prior to the ban, or even really recognized in the 38 years since then, so in most cases the required paperwork simply doesn't exist.

The government has indicated a certain willingness to be somewhat flexible, but the question remains as to how flexible the government will be with good faith estimates or documentation.  Logic would dictate that if you can document that the bow was in this country in 1972, then the ivory also had to have been imported prior to 1976 and is thus legal.

The second requirement, that the bow must not have been bought or sold after February of this year, is bizarre. This makes any ivory-containing instrument unsaleable in the US, which I imagine is the purpose. It prevents a future market in such items, and without such a market, there is no incentive to forge documentation for illegal ivory to pass as legal ivory. However, in the violin world, there really is no market for ivory in the first place, only for the works of art which happen to contain bits of ivory, and which may be irreparably damaged if those bits are removed.

Still, it's progress. Stay tuned ...


20 April 2014

Borders and Permits (part 2)

You are traveling into or out of the US with your violin, and you are nervous. You've heard about instruments and/or bows being seized at the border. What do you do?

Potential problems

Certain species of plants and animals are "listed", meaning that there are restrictions placed on their import or export, either by US law or by International Treaty. Crossing a border with your personal property counts as "import/export" under these laws. Unfortunately, a number of materials used by luthiers are now "listed" So there is a very real possibility that you could run into trouble at the border.

The bow

  • Bow tip - it may be made of elephant ivory
  • Grip - may be made of lizard skin or snakeskin
  • Frog dots and buttons - probably mother of pearl or other shell
  • Stick itself may be pernambuco (a CITES-listed species)
  • Frog is ebony (but only Madagascar ebony is currently listed)

The violin

  • Fittings may be rosewood or ebony (but only certain species are a problem)
  • Fingerboard is ebony (again, only certain species are a problem)
  • There may be decorative elements that include ivory or shell
Maybe your instrument has no problems. The woods are all from permitted sources, your bow tip is bone or mammoth ivory, the grip is goatskin, and there are no pearl dots. But, more likely, you've always thought the tip was ivory - but it's 50 years old, that's pre-ivory ban, surely? And your bow has oystershell mother of pearl; that's not endangered.

What do you do?

All wildlife products, listed or not, must be declared at the border (that includes all mother-of-pearl, since even farmed oysters are considered "wildlife"), but only a few species are actually listed under the ESA (Endangered Species Act) or CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). Only listed species require a permit. 

So first, determine if your instrument contains a listed species. 

If it does not, DOCUMENT this. Keep whatever records you have. Ask makers, repairers, appraisers to provide a statement of materials used. 

If the instrument/bow DOES include a listed species, you need to apply for a permit . Use form 3-200-23 for animal products (ivory, pearl) and 3-200-32 for plant species (pernambuco, Brazilian rosewood). It would be best to apply at least 2 months ahead of travel. 

In general, you will need the scientific name of the species, place of origin, and estimated age of original export/import. Originally, they wanted export permits from the country of origin and an import permit from the US, but these documents were not historically issued at the time many of today's bows were imported. Believe it or not, the FWS people ARE willing to work with us on this. 

Even if they are willing to work with us on the paperwork, there is another problem. You have to go in and out via a "designated port", where FWS have the facilities to examine the item. Unfortunately there are only 18 FWS-designated ports. The FWS rep at Mondomusica said it might be possible, by prearrangement, to use a different port, but it would be subject to their ability to send agents to meet you. I assume there would be a fee for this. 
The FWS is working with APHIS, the League of American Orchestras, and other organizations to develop an "instrument passport" system, but it is not yet functional. There will also be an orchestra/exhibition permit, that will cover a collection of instruments traveling together. 

Plant species regulations are less stringent than those for wildlife products. The APHIS rep at the Mondomusica talk said that they were not interested in finished products, only raw materials, so individual finished bows of pernambuco would not need permits. However, I have not yet found that documented on their website, and it doesn't entirely jive with the published directive to use form 3-200-32. I suspect the form is only for raw wood import, but I would call APHIS to verify this, and if necessary, submit the form anyway.

So that's the status at the moment. 

No permit needed

The problem with all of this, as I see it, is if at the start you determine your instrument does NOT have any listed material, or even anything that needs to be declared. Your bow has a synthetic tip, the grip is goatskin, and there is no pearl. So you happily go to the 'nothing to declare' line. But some customs agent decides that you should have declared that "ivory" tip, and asks for your permits, which of course you don't have, and he seizes the bow as contraband. He is wrong, and you can appeal, and (in as simple a case as this) it will get sorted out in a couple of weeks. But in the meantime, it is a hassle, and you don't have your bow.
One solution is to have a 'no permit needed' document. Another solution is to use something obviously synthetic. Bow tip material that fluoresces violently under UV is one possibility.

13 April 2014

Violin Materials and the Law (part 1)

At Mondomusica NY, a violin exhibition and trade show, there was a four-hour presentation/discussion on materials and legal/border problems. It was a very good talk. There were three representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for the regulation of animal products, and three from the US Department of Agriculture APHIS, which is responsible for regulating plant products. In addition, there were representatives from the League of American Orchestras, a noted bow maker, a noted violinmaker, and a conservation lawyer.

I went largely because I am concerned about the newly-instituted changes in the ivory ban, which will affect classic bows. However, the talk only lightly touched on that.

There WERE a few other items of immediate concern to luthiers, that I hadn't even been aware were issues.

Does an item incorporate any wildlife product? If so, it must be declared.

Apparently, there's been a law on the books for a long time that you have to declare ANY products that use wildlife parts. This has not really been enforced until recently. This is a matter of declaring materials, not a matter of whether they are permitted (a different topic). ANY non-domesticated animal is considered wildlife. Farmed or captive-reared is not the same as domesticated.

How does this affect those of us in the violin trade?
  • ANY form of shell is considered a wildlife product, including shells from cultured oysters. All mother-of-pearl is a wildlife product, as is abalone and awabi.
  • Only leather from domesticated animals - cows, goats, sheep, etc. is exempt from having to be declared. Lizard or snakeskin grips are wildlife products.
  • Bone is not a wildlife product if it comes from a domesticated species. Most bone used by luthiers does not need to be declared.
  • All ivory is a wildlife product, as no domesticated species produces ivory. Even mammoth or mastodon ivory, which is legal and unregulated, must be declared.
Any declaration needs to have the full species name - genus and species. It should also have country of origin, if possible, and an estimate of age.

Commercial or non-commercial?

A second area of concern was the distinction between commercial and non-commercial use. The profession of the person taking an instrument across a border determines this, not the intended use of a particular instance. So - a luthier who is taking a personal instrument to a conference, to show it around, needs a commercial import/export permit. It doesn't matter that there is no intent to sell the instrument abroad. The permit is required if the person is in the trade. So, for instance, if I take an instrument with me, just to practice, when I go to visit family in Canada, I should have a permit, because I am in the trade. The discussion did not make it clear whether that applies to musicians who are not luthiers; it very well may, since playing for hire is a commercial activity.
The Fish and Wildlife Service people were actually very helpful, and repeatedly told us to call them, they were more than happy to help, they had no interest in causing problems. But they had to enforce the law.

We need some sort of negative documentation

However one thing that threw the government reps is that people want -- need, actually -- some sort of documentation that certifies when an instrument is free of anything that needs a permit. If a tip is made of high-quality synthetic ivory, no permit is needed, not even an import/export license; but how can we document that? A Customs agent can't be counted on to be able to tell the difference. If they don't believe you when you say the tip is synthetic, they can seize the bow. The USFWS representative explained that if there is a question, there is a procedure for seizure and expert identification - but that could take quite a bit of time.

I gathered from the conversation that FWS had envisioned the proposed "passports" as applying only to objects that do incorporate wildlife and thus come under their jurisdiction. They had not considered that completely exempt objects might need acceptable documents. They expressed willingness to work with some organization on this. This should be high priority for all of us

Meanwhile - luthiers should start using full scientific names for the materials we use, and state them on any receipts or invoices. This is needed for animal materials, of course, but the representatives from APHIS spoke about ebony and rosewood restrictions, and we should get into the habit of doing so for woods also. On the plant side, they have much greater latitude - in general, finished pieces do not face restrictions, while raw materials do. On the animal side, the bans are all or nothing - it doesn't matter how small a piece of animal material is in a piece.

Crossing borders

A luthier or anyone else "in the trade" who plans to cross out of or into the US with anything that has any restrictions should get an import/export permit, which costs $100 a year.
Any materials that require an ESA or CITES permit should have those lined up before FWS clearance is sought, and FWS clearance must be obtained before arriving at the border. It is best to contact FWS 48 hours ahead of time. There are a very limited number of "designated ports of entry"; entry through a different port might be possible with 72 hours notice and probably an additional fee.
All of that sounds like it is designed for large commercial shipments, and it is. Unfortunately, since "commercial" is defined for the person, it can be held to apply to trips by one in the trade with one's personal instrument.

However, there are apparently two types of certificates issued that can be issued to musicians - one, tied to the instrument, good for three years, which allows you to take the instrument in and out of the country during those three years. This is the "passport" they have been talking about.
There is also a traveling exhibition certificate, which allows a bunch of instruments to be taken in and out together, and is the permit issued to orchestras on tour.

Simple solution

The simplest solution is to avoid having any material on your instruments that is, or could reasonably be confused with, a restricted species. Remove all mother-of-pearl. Make sure all leather is goat, and have a receipt that says so. Replace tips with a synthetic substitute.

Of course, if you have an important bow or instrument, this would ruin the historical and artistic integrity of the piece. In that case, it will be necessary to get a permit. That is, if possible. In some cases (notably a piece that incorporates elephant ivory), it will not be legal to cross borders with it, or even sell it at all, as the law stands now.

Some woods are restricted in raw form, though right now finished products are okay. The only wood typically of concern on a violin is the ebony; Madagascar ebony is a listed species. But we don't know what will happen in the future. If you are making new, it might be advisable to find a substitute, or at least provide as much documentation as possible with an instrument. The same is true of pernambuco, for bows - right now, finished products are okay, but the species is listed in CITES.