Not a rosy pic­ture

Af­ter putting up a fight at CITES, will In­dia be able to pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive trade regime to rose­wood ar­ti­sans of the coun­try? |


In­dia re­fuses an in­ter­na­tional treaty to reg­u­late trade in Rose­wood prod­ucts, im­per­il­ing the liveli­hoods of ar­ti­sans20

CALL IT a failed at­tempt to as­suage the hand­i­craft in­dus­try’s grow­ing hunger for price­less wood or the gov­ern­ment’s own my­opic vi­sion, In­dia’s rose­wood prod­ucts are fast los­ing sheen among for­eign ad­mir­ers. Ex­port mar­ket of this thriv­ing sec­tor has nearly crashed since an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment came into ef­fect on Jan­uary 2, reg­u­lat­ing the trade in all the 250 rose­wood species (un­der Dal­ber­gia genus). The wood is prized for its unique, blood-hued lus­ture, in­tri­cate grain, dura­bil­ity and fine fin­ish. Due to its acous­tic prop­er­ties, it is also sought-af­ter for mak­ing gui­tars.

The agree­ment, aimed at pro­tect­ing the species, was made at the 17th Con­fer­ence of Par­ties (cop 17) to cites (the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) held at Jo­han­nes­burg dur­ing Septem­ber-Oc­to­ber 2016. Sev­eral African and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries had raised con­cerns over a “con­sid­er­able rise in in­ter­est in the wood of Dal­ber­gia on in­ter­na­tional mar­kets, pri­mar­ily in China”. This is fu­elling an il­le­gal trade, which is dec­i­mat­ing Dal­ber­gia pop­u­la­tions through­out its range, they had said. Al­though, cites fo­cuses on the pro­tec­tion of in­di­vid­ual species, cop 17 put the en­tire genus un­der Ap­pendix II, which reg­u­lates trade in species. Though most of the 182 mem­ber coun­tries agreed to the pro­posal, In­dia for the first time has en­tered a reser­va­tion con­cern­ing the in­clu­sion of all rose­wood in Ap­pendix II.

Since all species of Dal­ber­gia are not threat­ened, In­dia has sug­gested that cites should reg­u­late the trade of in­di­vid­ual species based on their con­ser­va­tion sta­tus. The In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (iucn) clas­si­fies D lat­i­fo­lia (In­dian rose­wood), na­tive to south­east In­dia, as “vul­ner­a­ble”, while con­sid­ers D sis­soo, also called shee­sham or North In­dian rose­wood, a species of least con­cern. List­ing of Dal­ber­gia genus may cre­ate un­nec­es­sary com­pli­ca­tions in the trade of

com­mon species like D sis­soo, which are be­ing man­aged and mon­i­tored through the man­age­ment plans of for­est ar­eas and are pro­tected un­der the for­est laws of In­dia, In­dian rep­re­sen­ta­tives had said at cop 17.

Shoot­ing itself in the foot?

In all prob­a­bil­ity, In­dia en­tered the reser­va­tion fol­low­ing lob­bies from the wood­work in­dus­try. Doc­u­ments with Down To Earth show that just a few months be­fore cop 17, the Net­work for Cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and Con­ser­va­tion of Forests, an in­dus­try group, wrote to the gov­ern­ment, urg­ing it to op­pose reg­u­la­tions of the trade in Dal­ber­gia as “its species re­ceive enough pro­tec­tion un­der the In­dian For­est Act, 1927”, and are eco­nom­i­cally im­por­tant for “a large num­ber of work­ers, medium-scale ex­porters and farm­ers”. Two months later, Ker­ala-based Wood Prod­ucts Ex­porters As­so­ci­a­tion (wpea) also urged the cites Man­age­ment Author­ity of In­dia, the body re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing rules of the con­ven­tion, to op­pose the in­clu­sion of Dal­ber­gia in Ap­pendix II. This short­sight­ed­ness has now come back to haunt the in­dus­try.

Af­ter en­ter­ing a reser­va­tion, In­dia is no longer “a Party” to the Con­ven­tion as far as species of Dal­ber­gia is con­cerned. Since no species listed in cites ap­pen­dices can be traded in­ter­na­tion­ally with­out a cites per­mit, this paved the way for an un­cer­tain fu­ture of the wood­work in­dus­try. To cir­cum­vent the de­ba­cle, In­dia made a dec­la­ra­tion to the De­posi­tary Gov­ern­ment that the Ex­port Pro­mo­tion Coun­cil for Hand­i­crafts (epch) un­der the Union Min­istry of Tex­tiles would is­sue com­pa­ra­ble cer­tifi­cates ac­cord­ing to Ar­ti­cle X of cites. “Union en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, which is the nodal author­ity un­der cites, en­trusted the re­spon­si­bil­ity on epch as it is un­der­staffed. But epch is now us­ing the author­ity to make money. It has in­creased its an­nual mem­ber­ship fee from `1 lakh to `1.25 lakh since cites rules came into ef­fect,” says a highly-placed source in the en­vi­ron­ment min­istry. In­dus­try in­sid­ers say the cer­tifi­cate only adds to their woes.

The cer­tifi­cate vriksh was orig­i­nally in­tro­duced in 2013 to en­sure “le­gal ori­gin of wood and wooden prod­ucts”. “Only big play­ers can af­ford this cer­tifi­cate,” says Somya Sharma, a hand­i­crafts ex­porter in Jaipur. “Apart from the an­nual fee of `1.25 lakh, we pay up­wards of `6,000 for ev­ery con­sign­ment ex­ported.” By com­par­i­son, one pays next to noth­ing for cites per­mit.

The dis­rup­tion was pal­pa­ble at the In­dian Hand­i­crafts and Gift Fair (ihgf) or­gan­ised by epch in Greater Noida near Delhi from Oc­to­ber 12 to 16. ihgf is among Asia’s largest such trade fairs and at­tracts buy­ers and im­porters from world­wide.

“Last year, 90 per cent of my trade was in shee­sham prod­ucts. This time, they ac­count for only 30 per cent of the busi­ness. Traders from abroad are mostly buy­ing aca­cia and mango wood prod­ucts,” says Gau­tam Vaswani, hand­i­craft ex­porter from Jodh­pur. “A prime rea­son for this is vriksh, which is de­lay­ing the ship­ment by at least six months,” he adds. Mount­ing pa­per­work is an­other dis­suad­ing fac­tor. Isami Hayashi, a wood prod­uct trader from Ja­pan who was at ihgf, says shee­sham prod­ucts have not only in­creased in price, im­port­ing those into Ja­pan would now re­quire a cer­tifi­cate from the Ja­panese au­thor­i­ties. “I will buy aca­cia prod­ucts in­stead,” he says.

The mood is re­flected in the data avail­able with the Union Min­istry of Com­merce, which shows that the hand­i­crafts ex­port plum­meted from `14.32 crore in 2015-16 to just `2.64 crore this year.

Gui­tar strikes an odd note

Be­ing a non-hand­i­craft com­mod­ity, gui­tar is not cov­ered un­der vriksh. And, this has badly hit the trade of semi-fin­ished gui­tars. Ac­cord­ing to the com­merce min­istry, the ex­port of mu­si­cal in­stru­ments like gui­tar, vi­o­lins and harps have fallen by 40 per cent in 2016-17 as com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year. In Septem­ber, the gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced non-detri­men­tal find­ings as a cites com­pa­ra­ble cer­tifi­cate for gui­tar. But the prob­lem per­sists. “No one is yet to re­ceive the cer­tifi­cate,” says Var­sha of Ker­ala-based Atheena Ex­ports that sup­plies semifin­ished gui­tars to the US, EU and Korea.

“Semi-fin­ished gui­tars from South In­dia are im­ported by gui­tar gi­ants like Gib­son Gui­tars, Martin Gui­tars and Fender Gui­tars,” says Gopalakr­ish­nan of wpea. But fol­low­ing im­ple­men­ta­tion of the cites rules, they are un­will­ing to buy rose­wood gui­tars. In 2015-2016, 4,000-5,000 cu­bic me­tres of rose­wood logs were auc­tioned from across South In­dia. This year, hardly 1,000 cu m have been auc­tioned, he says. “Had the gov­ern­ment agreed for trade re­stric­tions on rose­wood, we could have ob­tained cites per­mit and con­tin­ued to ex­port our goods,” he adds.


Ar­ti­sans pre­fer shee­sham or North In­dian Rose­wood, for carved wood work be­cause of its fine fin­ish


Gui­tars made from rose­wood species found in South In­dia are in high de­mand for fine acous­tic prop­erty

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