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Importing Rosewood: How to Comply with CITES and the USDA

Rosewood panel
When importing rosewood into the United States, it is essential to understand the regulations set by both the USDA and CITES. This guide will help ensure you comply with all regulations and clear U.S. Customs successfully.
By
Joey Rizzolo
February 11, 2022
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Last Modified: February 11, 2022

Rosewood is one of the most sought-after exotic commodities found in the world. Decorative furniture, guitars, and other crafted items from this wood command ownership. Nevertheless, importing rosewood products is a complicated task for any importer.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA APHIS), a plant permit is required to import rosewood into the U.S. Additionally, you must obtain an export certificate from the CITES Management Authority. Only rosewood listed under CITES appendix II and III may be imported.

If you are interested in importing such a delicate product as rosewood into the United States, we have licensed customs brokers ready to assist you.

What is Rosewood?

Traditionally, rosewood has been a high-demand commodity around the world - specifically in Asia. Rosewood is considered ornamental timber or decorative timber, simply known as a "decoration wood." The rosewood species have several biological species classifications depending on where in the world it comes from. The genus Dalbergia represents the most valid form of rosewood on earth.

Rosewood has a deep black resinous layer along with rich grains and streaks throughout. It is meant to be used for additive purposes, not load-bearing or in structural applications. Rosewood is produced commonly in luxury car interiors, finishes, musical instruments, and luxurious furniture.

Types of Rosewood

The timber known as rosewood belongs to the Dalbergia genus. The rosewood species have several subgenera, which interlinks the species. Rosewood grows in India, Africa, Brazil, Jamaica, Central America, and Southeast Asia.

Appendix I

Dalbergia NigraBrazilThe wood possesses a sweet yet strong smell

Appendix II

Dalbergia LatifoliaIndonesiaGrown in Pakistani plantations but native to India
Dalbergia MaritimaMadagascarHighly sought after due to its pronounced red color
Dalbergia OliveriBurmaIt has a very dense grain and is fragrant
Dalbergia RetusaC. AmericaIt comes from all over Central America
Dalbergia SissooBangladeshExcellent for crafting furniture, resilient to termites

Appendix III

Machaerium ScleroxylonBoliviaNot a genuine rosewood but has many qualities
Pterocarpus IndicusNew GuineaThe national tree of the Philippines

Is Rosewood an Endangered Species?

looking up in a forest

Yes, genuine rosewood is on the brink of extinction globally. The demand for rosewood and overharvesting has pushed the trafficking of rosewood beyond the breaking point.

The global shortage and overexploitation of rosewood have caused the biological species to enter the endangered species list.

The Chinese demand for rosewood to use in furniture and other craftables caused the rosewood export market to explode. The demand from the middle class to own rosewood furniture has risen to over 40%. 

Today in China, the need for rosewood to craft hongmu (redwood) has gone viral. Hongmu is the crafting of handmade furniture, flooring, and handcraft ornaments. Africa is the biggest supplier of rosewood to China, with over 95% of all exported rosewood from Africa bound for the Chinese market.

Need Help Importing Rosewood?

Chat with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers and get personalized advice on how to import successfully!

Is Rosewood a Protected Species?

stacked lumber

Rosewood is a globally protected species, with both international and state protection. Both global organizations and national organizations work together to protect the species.

Their goal is to normalize the sustainability of rosewood. Additionally, they seek to bring anyone who stands in the way of its restoration to justice.

CITES

The CITES acronym stands for The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. It is an international agreement between governments to protect plants and animals. The goal of CITES is to ensure that the trade of plants and animals does not threaten their survival.

To help save what remains of all 300 species of rosewood, CITES moved in to protect the genus and place them under trade restrictions on January 2, 2017. Between 2017 through 2019 more variants of rosewood were placed under CITES protection. It prevents forests of other countries like Sri Lanka, The Gambia, and Vietnam from having extinct populations of rosewood trees.

It is also important to note that when importing rosewood into the U.S., you must carefully examine the sustainability of the source. Once you have identified a supplier, be sure to determine if the wood you are sourcing is sustainable and that it complies with CITES lists and does not break any laws.

Since CITES is an agreement between countries, it does not replace national laws by governmental authorities. Trade is not allowed if a country does not sign up for the CITES agreement. Before importing anything internationally, check the CITES website to register goods before importation.

Each country has a government agency responsible for CITES. You should visit their website to learn more about their permit system.

CITES Appendices

CITES is broken down into three appendices. Each appendix is outlined as follows:

  • CITES Appendix I: This section covers wild species threatened with extinction
  • CITES Appendix II: This section covers wild species deemed at risk of extinction
  • CITES Appendix III: This section covers wild species, not at risk or endangered

In this list, appendix I ensures that high regulations are put in place to ensure the sustainability of the species. In appendix II, these species are also highly regulated but not to the level of appendix I. As for appendix III, the regulation of this species is by individual request to a nation trying to preserve the species. You can read about each CITES appendices here to learn more.

APHIS

APHIS stands for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. APHIS is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are the lead agency in collaboration with other agencies to protect the welfare of agriculture from pests and diseases.

APHIS requires a permit for all imports of plants and plant products. Generally, you would need the PPQ 585 application to import timber or timber products. However, given the nature of rosewood and its CITES classification, PPQ 621 is the required permit needed.

APHIS has three goals that pertain to rosewood:

  • The protection from non-native plants and diseases
  • The monitoring and management of existing agricultural conditions
  • Resolution and control of trade issues related to health concerns

APHIS has statutory authority for the protection of rosewood under the following federal statutes:

  • The Lacey Act
    • A law that makes it illegal to import or trade any genus of rosewood if found to violate the law.
  • Plant Protection Act
    • This act consolidates all existing USDA laws into a single comprehensive law. Giving the USDA the ability to regulate, restrict, or prohibit the import of rosewood.

Declarations

Import declarations are required for plant material imported into the U.S. every year. A Declaration of Importation is required under the Lacey and Plant Protection Act. In 1900, the first federal law protecting wildlife was called the Lacey Act and later amended in 2008 to include plants, specifically illegally procured plants and timber. 

A Plant & Plant Product Declaration is required before the arrival of your goods at a U.S. port. This form is accessible electronically through the Automatic Broker Interface (ABI). You can also submit a paper form to show the Customs Border Patrol (CBP). 

However, you will need to keep the original for the USDA. When considering all of the regulations and laws regarding the importation of rosewood, it would be advantageous to consult a broker before attempting to import. We have several articles discussing importing wood and also importing wood furniture. These articles will provide additional insight to importing wood and furniture goods.

Illegal Trafficking

It goes without saying how rare, exotic, and endangered rosewood has become worldwide. In Francophone (French) West Africa, the forests of Senegal are one of the last remaining strongholds of genuine rosewood in the world. 

Rosewood trees represent one of the most valuable and rarest types of timber on the planet. They are worth hundreds of millions of dollars through illegal export. The trunks are often cut into two-meter-long logs and placed in shipping containers for transport.

This trade corrupts local communities and accelerates the destruction of their forests. In Senegal, this type of illegal cutting has become known as "The Rosewood Trail." 

In 2017, the West African rosewood tree was granted international protection under CITES. This protection represents a binding code of conduct to protect the living environment. The nations of Senegal and Gambia have agreed to work together to stop the trade of rosewood.

China has been strengthening its foothold in a waning French-influenced Senegal and Gambia. The smuggling of timber from Senegal into China has ramped up over the years. The rosewoods protection is through an international agreement, but the Senegalese government has taken one step further to make it illegal to sell or export rosewood.

In Senegal, there are two contrasting viewpoints among the people. Some believe that conservation is necessary due to the heritage and significance of the rosewood trees. While others believe that financial gain is more important and choose to harvest the rosewood trees.

Conservation: The Senegalese believe the trees are spiritual and have significance to their ancestors. They also think that deforestation will ruin their land.

Harvesting: Loggers make tens of dollars per log, while the sale of trunks from Chinese suppliers to manufacturers in China sells for tens of thousands of dollars each.

Despite the laws and regulations across the planet, rosewood is the most trafficked timber species on earth. Senegalese loggers will cut down the rosewood trees, split them into logs and bring them to staging areas known as depots across the Gambian border. The logs are then brought to the Gambian capital, Banjul's, Atlantic port and loaded on ships.

Illegal exports of rosewood account for over half of the country's total exports, resulting in just over 10% of the nation's gross domestic product (GDP). The Gambia is in the world's top 5% of rosewood suppliers, yet their supply was depleted years ago. The Gambia has exported 1.6 million trees shipped to China between 2012 and 2020 per a report done by China Dialogue. 

Need Help Importing Rosewood?

Chat with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers and get personalized advice on how to import successfully!

Is it Illegal to Trade or Ship Rosewood?

rosewood boards

No, it is not illegal to buy or ship rosewood across international borders. However, specific regulations and laws must be followed to purchase or ship rosewood.

To successfully import rosewood into the U.S., you will need an export certificate from the exporting country's CITES management authority. After you have an export certificate, have your import cleared by U.S. Customs following the various guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal Plant & Health Inspection service.

The import and export of the Dahlbergian genus of rosewood are strictly prohibited and monitored under the rules and regulations of CITES. You can check the species database here for information on the specific genus of rosewood you are attempting to import.

When importing CITES goods, ask for a copy of the paperwork in advance so you can inform your carrier to avoid delays from inspection. You will also need declaration forms, as discussed before showing them to the CBP and USDA. After receiving your certificate, the carrier should be notified that your goods are transported under CITES.

Is Rosewood Banned in North America?

wood flooring

Rosewood is not banned depending on the context; you can own, trade, or sell rosewood as long as supporting documentation is available. At this point, consulting with an import specialist familiar with these laws and regulations would be to your benefit when handling an import of such a sensitive nature.

You cannot import rosewood listed under CITES appendix I, such as Brazilian rosewood. With over 300 species of Dalbergia listed under appendix II, these species are regulated in order to create sustainability.

As noted earlier, in order to import rosewood listed under appendix II, you will need to consult with the country of origin's CITES. By doing this, you can validate the sustainability from a source registered with CITES. 

Rosewood Guitars

The desire for rosewood and its intended use differs depending on where you live. China has a particular fascination for rosewood furniture, whereas, in the U.S., the most popular use case for rosewood is in guitars. 

The use of rosewood in guitars is both ornamental and somewhat structural. Musicians say that rosewood produces a rich sound, a kind of quality not found in other forms of timber. It is no wonder why the demand for such high-quality instruments perpetuates year over year.

Before 2019, registration was required for existing guitars with any rosewood on them through CITES. New guitars made with rosewood were deemed illegal and banned. Thus, in the U.S., rosewood was considered a regulated commodity. 

An article 10 certificate, often referred to as a CITES certificate, is a certification that identifies and tracks the individually crafted good made of rosewood. The reasoning behind an article 10 certificate is to help contain and control the illegal trade of raw material and finished products made of rosewood.

As of 2019, CITES regulations were lifted regarding rosewood instruments. Meaning that if you travel, buy, sell, or trade rosewood-made guitars, no longer are you required to have an article 10 permit. You can even move freely with guitars made of rosewood and exceed the previous weight limit without a permit.

How to Import Rosewood

shipping containers

When importing finished rosewood products or the subgenus of genuine rosewood, there are certain things to consider. Preparation is especially important for any first-time importer of such a sensitive commodity. 

Careful preparation and understanding of CITES, APHIS, USDA, CBP, including necessary documentation, can be a struggle. Gaining the assistance of a Licensed Customs Broker would be prudent when dealing with an endangered item protected by international law.

Before importing:

  1. Validate that the supplier is registered with CITES 
  2. Investigate the export nations genus breakdown
  3. Consider the sustainability of the species
  4. Contact a representative from the CITES origin nation
  5. Fill out a Declaration of Importation and Plant & Plant Product form
  6. Consult a specialist before importation

Need Help Importing Rosewood?

Chat with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers and get personalized advice on how to import successfully!

Get Expert Help Importing with USA Customs Clearance

Due to the endangered nature of rosewood, a plethora of measures has been taken globally to help ensure the survival of the species and sustainable trade. When importing rosewood, there are many specifics to consider. Importing is not an easy cut and dry task by any means.

Importing rosewood requires careful attention to rules, regulations, permits, and exceptions. It is best to consult an expert to avoid errors, delays, or violations. Our friendly and knowledgeable Licensed Customs Brokers are here to help ensure the smooth importation of your product while following international policy.

If you are new to importing, we recommend one of our "New Importer Success Bundles." These bundles are the ultimate protection when importing for the first time, especially with as sensitive a commodity as rosewood. Contact us today and let USA Customs Clearance help you get started today.

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