The fragrance of rosewood floats over CITES

17 Mar 2010

This morning, the 15th Conference of States at CITES decided by consensus to approve the Brazilian proposal to list Brazilian rosewood (Aniba rosaeodora) in Appendix 2. The international trade in rosewood essential oil will be controlled from now in importing and exporting countries. The listing makes a provision for the exclusion of finished products, packaged and ready for sale. Ladies, you do not need a CITES permit to travel with your No5.

Brazilian rosewood is also called pau rosa, its Brazilian name, to avoid confusion with other species from around the world which are also named rosewood because of their color. Pau rosa is exclusively present in the Amazon basin, principally in Brazil and French Guiana. Some populations were counted in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Suriname, and Venezuela. As the Brazilian proposal emphasizes, the growth of this tree is slow while its exploitation is rapid. The harvesting surpasses its capacities for natural re-growth. All the countries in the region supported Brazil, as well as Mexico and Costa Rica on behalf of 25 Central American and Caribbean countries. Those which were against it didn’t so much as lift a finger.

The essential oil of rosewood has been sought in perfumery for over a century for its linalool, which evaporates slowly and transmits this property to the other elements, acting as a fixative. It has been promoted in aromatherapy for around the last ten years for all kinds of uses, some of them questionable. The essential oil is the target of significant illegal trade. A kilo of oil currently trades for around 100 USD. Brazil made an accounting and realized that the total amount of exported oil could not come from the amount of legally harvested trees. In the period from 2003 and 2008, the difference is around 500%.

Spain, on behalf of the member states of the European Community, emphasized the problems of identification of rosewood oil that could arise. It is true that even the most experienced perfumers could be fooled by wholesalers who sell oil mixed with its petrochemical substitute at the price of natural oil. Collaboration between producing and importing countries has been hoped for, in order to establish reliable methods of identification.

Since 1997, at the request of Robin des Bois, the French Federation of Perfuming Industries and Chanel have shown their support for the listing of rosewood in Appendix 2 of CITES. This position demonstrates willingness to regulate international trade that is not shared by other professions using rare woods; those who have followed the debates on the listing of Pernambuco in Appendix 2 during the preceding session of CITES will remember the lobby of bow makers.

Documents on rosewood and photographic documentation by Robin des Bois on exploitation in the Amazon.

Note: France, as a range state, was approached starting in 1997 to request the listing of rosewood in Appendix 2, but didn’t do anything about it. Brazil did. Some would say that it is getting off lightly by listing a tree for which the international commerce is not of a comparable volume to wood used for lumber or furniture. But because of its great value, rosewood oil encourages selective protection of the Amazonian forest and the operators of small scale and mobile distilleries are thus the best guardians of this green sanctuary.

Robin des Bois

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