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New headache for musicians: US aims to impose instrument passports

The proposal is still at a very early stage. Plenty of time to lobby elected representatives. Get organised now. Here’s an agency report from a biodiversity conference.

cellos mangled

By TODD PITMAN Associated Press Mar 7, 2013, 7:00 AM


…. Delegates attending a global biodiversity conference in Bangkok this week are debating a U.S. proposal to streamline international customs checks for travelers with musical instruments that legally contain endangered wildlife products like exotic hardwoods, ivory or tortoise shell.

The goal is not to burden musicians, but to make foreign travel easier by doing away with cumbersome import and export permits and ensuring legal instruments aren’t confiscated, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, who is leading Washington’s delegation to the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in the Thai capital.

The proposal is expected to be voted on as early as Friday. If approved, travelers would be able to carry a “musical instrument passport” valid for three years.

The CITES framework was signed in 1973 to ensure the survival of the world’s flora and fauna by regulating international trade in threatened species. About 35,000 species are presently protected.

Ashe said he was not aware of any cases of international customs agents seizing instruments, and if it has happened, it’s been extremely rare. But concern over the issue within the U.S. music industry rose sharply in 2011, when federal agents raided the factories and offices of Gibson Guitar to seize what they said was illegal ebony wood shipped to the guitar maker from India. Gibson was the subject of a similar raid in 2009 for using wood allegedly exported illegally from Madagascar.


Violin bows are a major concern. Some are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the last thing their owners want is to risk having them confiscated.

“What we want to do is make sure people can comply with the law, and do so easily,” Ashe said. “So we came up with this idea of the musical instrument passport that would allow people to have one document to move through multiple countries.”

Ashe said his department had consulted with musicians’ organizations including the International Music Products Association and the League of American Orchestras, which have called for CITES to protect the ability of musicians to travel abroad with their instruments and appealed for exemptions for musicians traveling with instruments that can be declared as personal effects.

At present, musicians whose instruments contain internationally regulated wildlife products — many of them built long before CITES was established — are supposed to get export permits or certifications from every country they visit.

Heather Noonan, vice president for advocacy at the League of American Orchestras, said that “understanding how to navigate the current international and domestic permit requirements — which vary from country to country — is very complicated and confusing.”

“Streamlining the permit process through a passport of some kind could be quite helpful, but it is essential that a passport be voluntary, and take into account the time, expense, and practical realities of traveling with instruments,” Noonan said. “It is key that steps are taken … 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.”

In the U.S., the passport-like documents would be issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service and could be obtained by mail, Ashe said. They would be issued by the relevant authority in other nations.

The passport issue is one of 70 proposals under discussion at the CITES conference, which began Sunday and lasts two weeks. Most of the proposals will determine whether member nations increase or lower the level of protection for various species, including polar bears, sharks, rays and timber.

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  1. I am for a document allowing me to travel. My husband has imported pianos from other countries and has had to contend with the US Fish and Wildlife Service regulations. They have been helpful. The problem has been with US Customs officials who are not familiar with musical instruments. We have had difficulties, including an incident where an instrument that was over 110 years old sat at the docks in NJ for over a month while the paperwork (pre-written) got sorted out. Having materials that would ease this burden would be a Godsend.

  2. Finishing my previous thought: my cello case has collected more TSA notices than I care to count. I just leave them in the case now, so that other TSA agents can see how often it’s been opened. I realize that this is NOT the same issue, but it’s a similar problem in that traveling with an instrument has become such a drag that I’d rather not subject my instrument to the trials and tribulations. I would rather borrow an instrument on the other end these days.

  3. Headache indeed: Probably the traveling musician will soon be an extinct species.

    Here is a recent draft of the proposal. And why should the instrument passport only be valid for three years, if a passport for human being is valid for 10 years?


    CoP16 Doc. 40

    Sixteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties
    Bangkok (Thailand), 3-15 March 2013
    Interpretation and Implementation of the Convention

    Report of the working group on Cross-border movement of musical instruments.

    Annex 1

    Resolution Conf. 16.xx

    Frequent cross-border non-commercial movements of personally owned musical instruments

    RECALLING that Article VII, paragraph 2, of the Convention provides that the provisions of Articles III, IV and V shall not apply to specimens that were acquired before the provisions of the Convention applied to those specimens, where the Management Authority issues a certificate to that effect;

    RECALLING that Article VII, paragraph 3, of the Convention provides that, other than in certain circumstances, the provisions of Articles III, IV and V shall not apply to specimens that are personal or household effects;

    RECOGNIZING that, because the Convention does not define the term ‘personal or household effects’ in Article VII, paragraph 3, the Parties adopted Resolution Conf. 13.7(Rev. CoP14) on Control of trade in personal and household effects to define the term;

    NOTING that, under Resolution Conf. 13.7 (Rev. CoP14), Parties agreed to not require export permits or re-export certificates for personal or household effects that are dead specimens, parts or derivatives of Appendix-II species except under certain circumstances;

    RECOGNIZING, however, that many Parties do not fully implement the personal and household effects exemptions in Article VII, paragraph 3, and Resolution Conf. 13.7 (Rev. CoP14), due to stricter domestic measures or other provisions, resulting in administrative burdens for individuals who frequently move musical instruments manufactured from species listed in the Appendices to the Convention across international borders when they might otherwise be exempt from documentation requirements under the Convention;

    RECOGNIZING that, under section VI of Resolution Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP15) on Permits and certificates, the Parties agreed that frequent cross-border movement of specimens used for exhibition purposes could be issued a travelling-exhibition certificate;

    AWARE that personally owned musical instruments manufactured from species listed in the Appendices to the Convention may be frequently moved across international borders for a variety of legitimate non-commercial purposes, including but not limited to personal use, performance, display or competition;

    NOTING that museums, orchestras or similar institutions moving musical instruments musical instruments owned by a museum, orchestra or similar institution being moved across international borders could be issued a travelling-exhibition certificate under Resolution Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP15) to facilitate such movement;

    NOTING that the repeated granting of permits and certificates under Articles IV, V or VII of the Convention for personally owned musical instruments that are frequently moved across international borders for non-commercial purposes poses problems of a technical and administrative nature, but that such movement needs to be monitored closely to prevent illegal activities;

    DESIRING that exemptions provided by the Convention not be used to avoid the necessary measures for the control of international trade in specimens crafted from species listed in the Appendices;

    RECOGNIZING that Article XIV, paragraph 1 (a), of the Convention states that the provisions of the Convention shall in no way affect the right of Parties to adopt stricter domestic measures regarding the conditions of trade, taking, possession or transport of specimens of species included in Appendices I, II or III, or the complete prohibition thereof;


    RECOMMENDS that for non-commercial cross-border movement of musical instruments derived from CITES species, other than Appendix-I specimens acquired after the species was included in the Appendices in cases where it is determined that a document is required, that:

    a) Parties issue a musical instrument certificate of ownership for a pre-Convention Appendix-I, -II or –III personally owned musical instrument or for a personally owned musical instrument containing specimens of Appendix-II or –III species acquired after theeffective listing date (“personal effects”), to facilitate the frequent non-commercial cross-border movement of musical instruments for purposes including, but not limited to personal use, performance, display or competition;

    b) although any Party may issue a certificate of ownership to the owner of a pre-Convention Appendix-I, -II or -III musical instrument or an Appendix-II or -III musical instrument who wishes to travel to other States with their musical instrument as a personal effect, it should do so only after agreement between the Parties concerned, and if the usual residence of the owner is within the territory of the issuing Party and the musical instrument is registered with the Management Authority of that Party;

    bc) a Management Authority only issue a musical instrument certificate when it is satisfied that the CITES specimens used in the manufacture of the musical instrument have not been acquired in contravention of the provisions of the Convention not issue a certificate of ownership for a musical instrument that is being hand-carried or is part of personally accompanying baggage unless it is satisfied that the musical instrument is legally possessed by the applicant and that the musical instrument has not been acquired in contravention of the provisions of any domestic legislation or the Convention;

    cd) the Management Authority require the applicant for a musical instrument certificate of ownership to provide their name and address and pertinent data regarding the musical instrument, including the species used to manufacture the instrument, and a means of identification, such as the manufacturer’s name and or serial number or other means of identification;

    de) the certificate issued in accordance with paragraph a) above include in box 5, or in another box if the standard form referred to in Resolution Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP15) is not used, the following language: “The specimen covered by this certificate, which permits multiple cross-border movements, is for non-commercial use and may not be sold, traded or otherwise disposed of outside the certificate holder’s State of usual residence”;

    ef) when a musical instrument that is the subject of a musical instrument certificate issued pursuant to this Resolution is no longer in the possession of the individual to whom the certificate was issued (e.g., due to sale, theft or destruction), the original certificate of ownership must be immediately returned to the issuing Management Authority;

    fg) a musical instrument certificate issued for a musical instrument be valid for a maximum period of three years to allow multiple imports, exports and re-exports of the instrument;

    gh) the Parties concerned treat each musical instrument certificate as a type of passport that allows the non-commercial movement of the identified musical instrument across their borders upon presentation of the original certificate to the appropriate border control officer who:

    i) inspects the original and validates it with an ink stamp, signature and date to show the history of movement from State to State; and

    ii) does not collect the original at the border, but allows it to remain with the specimen;

    hi) the Parties concerned require that the musical instrument be appropriately identified and that the identification mark or a detailed description of the instrument be included on the musical instrument certificate so that the authorities of the State into which the musical instrument enters can verify that the certificate corresponds to the musical instrument in question;

    ij) when, during a stay in another State, a musical instrument certificate for a musical instrument is lost, stolen or accidentally destroyed, only the Management Authority that issued the document may issue a duplicate. This duplicate will bear the same number, if possible, and the same date of validity as the original document, but will bear a new date of issuance and include the following statement: “This certificate is a true copy of the original”;

    jk) in accordance with paragraphs a) and f) above, the musical instrument may not be sold or otherwise transferred while outside of the State where the instrument is normally held;

    kl) musical instruments for which musical instrument certificates have been issued must be returned to the State where the instrument is normally held before the expiration of the certificate and that Parties not replace or re-issue musical instrument certificates that expire while the musical instrument is outside the State where the instrument is normally held; and

    lm) Parties maintain records of the number of musical instrument certificates issued under this Resolution and, if possible, include the certificate numbers and the scientific names of the species concerned in their annual reports. 
    Annex 2

    Resolution Conf. 12.3 (Rev. CoP15) on Permits and certificates

    Text proposed for inclusion is underlined and text proposed for deletion appears in strikethrough.

    VI. Regarding travelling-exhibition certificates

    RECOMMENDS that:

    a) for the purpose of this resolution, the term “travelling exhibition” includes, but is not limited to, travelling zoos, circuses, menageries, museum exhibitions, orchestras, plant exhibitions, and other such exhibitions;

    ab) each Party issue a travelling-exhibition certificate for CITES specimens belonging to a travelling exhibition based in its State, registered with the Management Authority and wishing to transport specimens of CITES species to other States for exhibition purposes only, on the condition that they were legally acquired and will be returned to the State in which the exhibition is based and that they were:

    i) acquired before 1 July 1975 or before the date of inclusion of the species in any of the Appendices of the Convention;

    ii) bred in captivity as defined in Resolution Conf. 10.16 (Rev.); or

    iii) artificially propagated as defined in Resolution Conf. 11.11 (Rev. CoP15);

    bc) travelling-exhibition certificates should be based on the model included in Annex 3 of the present Resolution. They should be printed in one or more of the working languages of the Convention (English, Spanish or French) and in the national language if it is not one of these;

    cd) travelling-exhibition certificates should contain the purpose code ‘Q’ and include in block 5, or in another block if the model form is not used, the following language: “The specimen/s covered by this certificate may not be sold or otherwise transferred in any State other than the State in which the exhibition is based and registered. This certificate is non-transferable. If the specimen/s dies/die, is/are stolen, destroyed, lost, sold or otherwise transferred, this certificate must be immediately returned by the owner to the issuing Management Authority”;

    de) a separate travelling exhibition certificate must be issued for each live animal;

    ef) for travelling exhibitions of specimens other than live animals, the Management Authority should attach an inventory sheet that contains all of the information in blocks 9 to 16 of the model form for each specimen;

    fg) travelling-exhibition certificates should be valid for not more than three years from the date on which they were granted to allow multiple imports, exports and re-exports of the individual specimens that they cover;

    gh) Parties consider such travelling-exhibition certificates as proof that the specimens concerned have been registered with the issuing Management Authority and allow the movement of such specimens across their borders;

    hi) at each border crossing, Parties endorse travelling-exhibition certificates with an authorized stamp and signature by the inspecting official and allow the certificates to remain with the specimens;

    ij) Parties check travelling exhibitions closely, at the time of export/re-export and import, and note especially whether live specimens are transported and cared for in a manner that minimizes the risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment;

    jk) Parties require that specimens be marked or identified in such a way that the authorities of each State into which an exhibition enters can verify that the travelling-exhibition certificates correspond to the specimens being imported;

    kl) when, during a stay in a State, an animal in possession of an exhibition gives birth, the Management Authority of that State be notified and issue a Convention permit or certificate as appropriate;

    lm) when, during a stay in a State, a travelling-exhibition certificate for a specimen is lost, stolen, or accidentally destroyed, only the Management Authority which has issued the document may issue a duplicate. This duplicate paper certificate will bear the same number, if possible, and the same date of validity as the original document, and contain the following statement: “This certificate is a true copy of the original”; and

    n) the travelling exhibition must return to its State of usual residence before the expiration of the certificate and Parties may not replace or re-issue travelling exhibition certificates that expire while the specimen is outside the owner’s State of usual residence; and

    mo) Parties include in their annual reports a list of all traveling-exhibition certificates issued in the year concerned;

    • Dr. Marc Villeger says:

      Why 3 years validity? Because you have to pay for their expenses!
      Meanwhile, how’s the weather in Bangkok this season? Biodiversity… whatever.

  4. Joep Bronkhorst says:

    If this ‘passport’ can also prevent instruments from being seized by customs at Frankfurt Airport, it’s worth it, especially for musicians with rare instruments

    • It will not help. If it goes according to tax bureaucracy a lot of people will inspect, handle and damage your instruments and bows under pretext of two different purposes: nature conservation and taxation. And there will be a lot of delays, stamps and paperwork. The travelling musician might really go exstinct.

      Up to now the only country where you really always had to declare an instrument on entry and on leave was Russia. This led to some delays but one has to concede that at least at Moscow airport they have qualified specialists for musical instruments who can appreciate and judge the beauty and value of such objects and handle them appropriately. Also he reason for these controls are understandable: Several cases of state-owned valuable instruments stolen and brought out of the country (some of them by very famous musicians).

  5. I would be interested to hear your reasons for declaring this a disastrous development. It’s not self-evident.

  6. Well Tomas2, we discussed that before, but again. All is relatively well if the customs offices are open. You then only at each border crossing have the inconvenience that your instrument is unpacked, handled and inspected by customs officials who might even damage the instrument in the process (see the recent posts about Mr. Gerhardts broken bow and cello). Then you will have paperwork concerning import taxes and separate paperwork concerning nature conservation.

    If the customs offices are not occupied as often at night or on weekends you probably are delayed until next working day to do the inspection and the paperwork. If there are no custom controls on trains you will have to leave the train at the border, find an office and do your inspection and paperwork there, that is if you have the luck that the office is open. You will have to catch the next train which will be the same or next day and will have a seat if you are lucky. If the authorities additionally demand a carnet ATA this complicates the situation further, because you first have to deposit a huge sum as a security with your chambre of commerce, a sum which brings you no interest and which only will be repaid when the carnet ATA is given up. And then you have to show the instrument on BOTH sides of each border and do the inspection and paperwork thing.

    A busy soloist who plays 100 or more concerts a year in and out of the EU and Europe has to travel on a very tight schedule, often at night or on weekends. He will run into serious difficulties if he is to organise his travels around the these controls.

    Many of these soloists are always carrying the same known instrument for years or even decades so these repeated inspections make not much sense and are possibly damaging to the instruments.

    One could as an alternative think of a instrument passport which after a competent inspection, documentation and registration could state once and for all that a given artist has the right to carry a given instrument, that the instrument is compatible with ecological standards and for tax-purposes based in a given country. One could demand a repeat-inspection once a year in his home-state to make sure that the instrument is not sold anywhere.

    This solution would avoid a lot of unnecessary paperwork, inspections and delays at borders. Switzerland has recently introduced such a solution for valuable instruments on loan by foreign donors and foundations.

    Hope this gives some foundation to my concerns. L.F.

  7. Rachel Young says:

    If this is in the works, perhaps, too, a professional pass for owners of large instruments could be considered, explaining that they must carry these instruments as part of their job. In return, airlines would have to exempt the oversize charges. The charges are getting so high, that professional players must consider the cost when accepting work. Such a passport could provide such additional benefits….

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