Government dithers over fate of seized CITES guitars
As anger over the effect of CITES restrictions on rosewood used in musical instruments continues to fester, the Border Agency has admitted that it has yet to decide on the fate of the instruments seized. Despite a Freedom of Information request by Music Instrument News, the agency has even refused to even say how many instruments it has so far confiscated.
The CITES restrictions were implemented in January 2017 as the automatic implementation of new rules drawn up by the CITES organisation (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) strictly controlling the use of rosewood. While most of the industry now seems to have adapted to the requirements for detailed paperwork, completed by both parties to the import and export of instruments containing rosewood, the extent of the difficulties experienced has been difficult to gauge as distributors and manufacturers have been reluctant to discuss seizures. Industry rumours, however, suggest the number of instruments impounded could be as high as 10,000 or even more.
The MIA, which has played an active role in consultations with DEFRA and working with its members and others to explain the regulations, says it has been unable to obtain an accurate number of impounded instruments, though Chief Executive, Paul McManus, says that at the end of 2017 he was quoted a figure of 10,000 guitars alone. In May, MIN put this figure to a government Press Officer who said she believed the number to be fewer than this, but advised an FOI request to obtain an accurate figure. This has now been refused, the Border agency responding: ‘A search of the records would be required to identify Rosewood items. We estimate that the search of the databases, along with the search of the supporting manual records could take a small team over two months due the to the number of items recorded’.
A well placed loophole in the FOI legislation allows a refusal if the cost of complying with a request is claimed to exceed £600.
The Agency continues: ‘Guitars for example are reported collectively under the heading Timber and wood products in our published statistics. There were in the calendar year 2017, 401 timber and woodseizures encompassing 454,114 items. A search of the records would be required to identify Rosewood items. We estimate that the search of the databases, along with the search of the supporting manual records could take a small team over two months due the to the number of items recorded’.
MIN is considering an appeal to this refusal to reveal how many guitars have been confiscated.
Of concern to some in the industry, whatever the actual number of instruments that have been impounded, is what will eventually happen to them. Retailer Lee Anderton of Anderton’s Music in Guildford, Surrey has contacted his local MP, Anne Milton, in an attempt to find out what the government proposes to do with the instruments it has taken, but told MIN he has yet to receive a satisfactory answer. His fear is that the instruments will be destroyed, rather than be given to music or educational charities, which he feels would be a more appropriate use.
In response to MIN’s FOI request about the fate of the impounded instruments, the Border Agency responded as follows: ‘We are currently considering options on how to best deal with the confiscated musical instruments. Our considerations will be based on what is in the public interest. Until that time the instruments will be held securely’. Who decides what is in the public interest or what criteria are used is not revealed. Moreover, ‘securely’, presumably, does not include the humidity and temperature requirements that musical instruments need to remain playable, so whether the instruments would actually be playable, even if they were donated to charities is open to question.
Readers with information on the continuing problems with CITES regulations are welcome to contact MIN, in confidence if required, as we continue to investigate this story.
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