The commercial extinction of Indian rosewood from global market

Abundant yet redundant


September 5, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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Around 40,000-50,000 artisans who are directly engaged in manufacturing woodware from Dalbergia sissoo have been affected

Has India failed to impress CITES to lift the curbs on rosewood trade? Devastated by the ban artisans and exporters allege India failed to put up a strong case at the CoP 18 in Geneva.

Dalbergia sissoo or rosewood, as it is commonly known as, is available in abundance in India and is widely preferred in Indian households as the best choice for home furniture. Then why is it that Indian exporters have to go through a loss even with the increased demand and supply?

The answer to this is with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) a global body on the endangered species. Recently at the 18th meeting of CoP of CITES held in Geneva from August 17 -28, the global body declined India’s demand to lift international trade restriction on products made of shisham and rosewood timber. The Ministry of Environment cited a study conducted by Botanical Survey of India which shows Dalbergia sissoo does not fall into any threatened category and is available in abundance both in wild and cultivated populations. However, CITES refused to be convinced with the country’s contention that the prized timber was available in abundance in India. India had claimed that the restricted trade has adversely affected livelihood of the poor farmers as well as over 50,000 artisans.

Since 2016, the products  made of Dalbergia genus species, around 250 in total including shisham and rosewood have been enlisted in the Appendix-II of the CITES, a multilateral treaty to protect endangered plants and animals. Items falling under Appendix-II are subject to trade restrictions to check over-utilisation. India has two species of Dalbergia, of which D latifolia (Indian rosewood) is classified ‘vulnerable’, while shisham is widely grown by farmers.

Huge impact

The move to ban rosewood trade has affected farmers, artisans and exporters. The worst of all of them who have been affected are the farmers. Many farmers in India have been dependent upon shisham trees for their livelihood. “As Dalbergia sissoo is a species of Agroforestry and millions of farmers plant this in their field as an investment for future urgent needs such as children’s education, daughter’s wedding, medical emergency etc. and it has been built as insurance, fall back system for the farmers. Rejection of our proposal for delisting from Appendix-II will affect the farmer’s will to plant more number of these plants, as the farmers will not be able to obtain a good price. The decision of rejecting delisting Dalbergia sissoo will affect India’s rural economy as well,” says O P Prahladka, regional convenor (East), Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts (EPCH) to Media India Group (MIG).

A major blow for artisans and exporters

The move will badly hit the livelihood of thousands of artisans.  Expressing concern over the impact of the ban a leading Indian exporter tells MIG that thousands of artisans in Saharanpur, Jodhpur and Amritsar will lose their livelihood.

Despite having potential export of over INR 10 billion of handicraft of this species only, export of INR 6.17 billion only could take place in 2017-18 due to this increased control on trade, as per the government report. “The exports of wooden handicrafts items made from Dalbergia sissoo is around INR 5 billion and has declined by over 10 pc over the last year.  Around 40,000-50,000 artisans who are directly engaged in manufacturing woodware from Dalbergia sissoo have been affected,” adds Prahladka.

Not only have the exports declined, but has become more cumbersome due to the additional paperwork. “The decision will burden us with unnecessary paperwork to export small shipment and we will also have to pay for export of every shipment to Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts. This will also lead to huge delays in shipping time due to paperwork. It will not only destroy the handicraft industry but will also impact nearly 80 pc of the export industry,” adds the exporter.

Loopholes in the administration? 

Exporters allege that the government did not put up a strong case before the CITES, thereby failing to convince the global body. “There is a loophole in the government when it comes to giving clearance to the exports. The point is the entire Dalbergia genus species is under trade regulation. The government could have presented a strong case only for Dalbergia sissoo, and asked to remove trade regulations from there,” says the exporter.

Exports of wooden handicrafts made from Dalbergia sissoo and Dalbergia latifolia are facilitated through a VRIKSH shipment certificate which is a comparable document in lieu of CITES permit issued by EPCH.

However, the exporter explains to MIG, “They take 2-3 weeks to issue a certificate that should ideally take just two days. In this way the buyers are running away due to the time taking process that is involved. We are losing on most of our buyers.  They are taking official charges with every shipment. You have to issue a draft, get affidavit done just for one shipment. The process of acquiring the certificates takes a long time and can really affect the business. They are creating huge bureaucratic hurdles in issuing VRIKSH certificate.”

The issuance of certificates includes establishing of the chain of custody and legality of the procured wood by the exporters, as per EPCH.

It all begins with China

The soaring demand in China for luxury reproduction wood furniture and cultural artworks rooted in Ming and Qing dynastic aesthetics led India pay the high price for it. The greatest demand for rosewood is for traditional-style furniture in China. The world’s most trafficked wild product by value as well as by volume, rosewood is now listed under Appendix-II of CITES.

In an effort to save the already threatened rare timbers with commercial, if not biological, extinction, laws have been tightened to protect Siamese rosewood that have been swept away by corruption, driven by the huge financial incentives offered by timber traders supplying the Chinese market.

From 2000-13, China imported a total of 3.5 million cubic metres of Hongmu (redwood timber) and is the only country to have a specific customs code for Hongmu species, indicating the country’s global dominance of trade in these timbers.

In March 2013, the world agreed to protect Siamese rosewood from unsustainable and illegal trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

What happened at the convention?

In order to create awareness among opinion makers, foresters, diplomats and delegates attending the Conference of Parties 18 (CoP18) at Geneva, a panel discussion was organised on ‘Dalbergia sissoo – Trees for Life and livelihood’ on the sidelines of CoP18.

The conference focused on how the tropical timber trees comprise another wildlife market of high commercial value. Responding to high and increasing demand for African teak from western Africa, CITES broadened the need for trade permits to include plywood and other forms.  Malawi’s national tree, the rare Mulanje cedar, and the slow-growing mukula tree (a type of rosewood) of southern and eastern Africa, were also added to Appendix-II. All Latin American species of cedar were listed in Appendix-II.

The Conference of the Parties accepted a proposal from Canada and the European Union that would allow certain exemptions of rosewood use—including for finished musical instruments like guitar and violin and component parts that contain rosewood, could be carried across borders without the need for CITES permits,  following the recommendation of a working group on this topic. Other finished rosewood products, such as small handicrafts weighing less than 10 kilograms per shipment, would also be exempt (that’s a change from an earlier proposal that had put the limit at 500 grams per item)



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