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The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) provides protection to more than 35,000 species of animals and plants internationally, whether they are traded or moved as live specimens or their parts. Our guidance is focused on advising musicians travelling with musical instruments that fall under CITES protection.

The MU and the Animal Plant Health Authority (APHA) have been working closely together to draw up the information and guidance on this page. The MU are extremely grateful to APHA for their time, input and expertise.

Changes to import and export arrangements

The UK formally exited from the EU on 31 December 2020 ending the Transition Period (TP).

Now, the movement of CITES goods between GB and EU, and between GB and NI will require import and export or re-permits from the UK Management Authority and the relevant Member State CITES Management Authority.

CITES goods must travel through a designated point of entry or exit. Documentation must be presented for endorsement by Border Force officials at the GB border.

Things to note

  • The UK will continue to accept all valid and in-date EU documents issued prior to the end of the TP (31 December 2020).
  • The EU has stated that it will not consider UK (re)-export or imports permits issued prior to the end of the Transition Period (TP) on 31 December 2020 as valid. Replacement documents will need to be issued by the relevant Member State CITES Management Authority.
  • However, UK issued certificates issued prior to 31 December 2020 including Personal Ownership Certificates (POCs), Traveling Exhibition Certificate (TECs), Musical Instrument Certificates (MICs) will be accepted by the EU. This is set this out in the Trade in Protected Species notice (europa.eu) in sections 2 and 4 respectively. We would still recommend double checking with the relevant Member State Management Authority(s) that it would accept them.

Some common names for CITES-listed species that may be used in the manufacture of musical instruments and therefore subject to CITES controls are as follows. 

Please bear in mind that the CITES regulations rely on use of the accurate scientific species names and not common names.  So it is your responsibility to check and determine the correct scientific names for your CITES applications. You can check if a species is listed and its listing grade on the Species+ website.

  • Ivory, e.g. violin bow tips, piano keys or ivory bagpipes
  • Rosewood, e.g. guitar fretboards or violins
  • African blackwood, e.g. woodwind instruments
  • Ebony, e.g. some stringed instruments or pianos
  • Mahogany (some species), e.g. guitars
  • Bubinga, e.g. guitars
  • Tortoiseshell

Further resources

  • Guidance on how to apply for a permit
  • Information on the ports that will be designated for CITES
  • Commercial trade in the species listed in Appendix I (Annex A of the Wildlife Trade Regulations which implement CITES in the EU/UK) is prohibited, trade in Appendix II and III (Annexes B and C) listed species is controlled.
  • You will need a CITES permit for the import, export or re-export of any CITES listed specimens in a musical instrument which have Annex A, B or C listings. There are some exemptions.
  • Contact the UK Management Authority for more information and advice on the requirements for your specific goods and movement. Traveling without the correct documents may result in confiscation of the item and prosecution.

Exemptions and definitions

In December 2019 an exemption for finished musical instruments, parts and accessories made of the following species came into force:

  • All Dalbergia species (commonly known as rosewood) - except for Dalbergia nigra and Dalbergia Cochinchinensis
  • Guibourtia demeusei (commonly known as Red bubinga)
  • Guibourtia pellegriniana (commonly known as Rose bubinga, Kavazingo)
  • Guibourtia tessmannii (commonly known as Rose bubinga, Kavazingo)

If the item meets the definition above then it is exempt from CITES controls and no CITES documents are needed.

Finished musical instruments

A musical instrument (as referenced by the Harmonized System of the World Customs Organization, Chapter 92; musical instruments, parts and accessories of such articles) that is ready to play or needs only the installation of parts to make it playable. This term includes antique instruments (as defined by the Harmonized System codes 97.05 and 97.06; Works of art, collectors’ pieces and antiques).

Finished musical instrument accessories

A musical instrument accessory (as referenced by the Harmonized System of the World Customs Organization, Chapter 92; musical instruments, parts and accessories of such articles) that is separate from the musical instrument, and is specifically designed or shaped to be used explicitly in association with an instrument, and that requires no further modification to be used.

Finished musical instrument parts

A part (as referenced by the Harmonized System of the World Customs Organization, Chapter 92; musical instruments, parts and accessories of such articles) of a musical instrument that is ready to install and is specifically designed and shaped to be used explicitly in association with the instrument to make it playable.

Musical Instrument Certificates and Travelling Exhibition Certificates

In certain circumstances, e.g. if travelling regularly with personal CITES items where no trade takes place (such as performance or display purposes), there are alternative permits you can apply for which can be used for repeat movements and last for three years. These include a Musical Instrument Certificate (MIC) and a Traveling Exhibition Certificate (TEC), Please contact APHA if you would like to check whether one of these certificates might apply to you by emailing wildlife.licensing@apha.gov.uk.

Musical Instrument Certificates are currently free of charge, and we would recommend this as the most flexible option for musicians travelling to and from the EU. 

Northern Ireland specific arrangements

Under the terms of the NI Protocol (agreed as part of the revised Withdrawal Agreement in 2019) the directly applicable EU Wildlife Trade Regulations will continue to apply in NI and CITES controls will apply at the GB/NI boundary. This means that direct movements between NI and the ER27 do not need CITES import/export permits, but CITES documents are needed for movements between GB and NI.

To facilitate the movement of CITES specimens between GB to NI, and NI to GB, the import and export checks will all happen (be co-located) in NI. This means you may use any point of exit from GB but must use one of the CITES-designated points of entry and exit in NI (Belfast seaport or Belfast International airport). For example, you may leave GB via Cairnryan and have both your GB export permit and NI import permit inspected/endorsed in Belfast seaport.

Instruments with Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl (MoP) can be used to refer to the white inlay of any shell, however the UK interpretation of CITES is that controls only apply to MoP known to have come from a CITES listed species.

The main MoP producing families are not CITES-listed and those MoP-producing CITES species do not appear to have been regularly used in bow-making. Moreover, MoP pieces used on musical instruments are often too small to identify. As such, unless there is specific evidence to suggest the MoP in an instrument derives from a CITES-listed species, MoP can be considered outside CITES controls.

However, we would recommend that:

  • (Re-)exporters of Mother of Pearl should check with the CITES Management Authority (MA) of the country of import as their interpretation of CITES may differ
  • Importers should check with the MA of the country of export; if no export permit is issued then no import permit will be required from Centre for International Trade, Bristol. If the exporting MA requires a permit CITB can only issue one if it is for a named CITES listed species.

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