CITES postpones Madagascar’s ‘domestic’ trade in rosewood and ebony and establishes consultative group to protect the remaining trees and prevent illegal international trade

by Mark W. Roberts, Derek Schuurman, Lucienne Wilmé, Patrick O. Waeber, 11 February 2024

In November 2022, during the 75th Standing Committee of CITES, Madagascar revealed plans to remove 30,000 rosewood and ebony logs from CITES. This move involved declaring these logs exclusively for domestic use, meaning that the logs would be allocated to governmental building projects or fashioned into handicrafts by local artisans, limited to a 10kg weight and solely for ‘domestic’ sale, despite the anticipated international export. Can this honestly not be considered international trade?


The opinion of conservationists working to protect Madagascar’s forests is that if this ‘domestic’ trade is successful, the thousands of rosewood and ebony logs in the ‘undeclared’ and ‘hidden’ stockpiles would be utilized next, or worse, that these other stockpiled logs, as well as freshly cut rosewood and ebony trees, could be laundered through these ‘official’ stockpiles which have actually never been adequately audited nor secured.

In either case, the consequent, enormous influx of rare Malagasy rosewood and ebony onto the international market will drive demand and further endanger the remaining wild rosewood and ebony trees.

The 2022 CITES Conference of the Parties in Panama failed to address Madagascar's sabotaging of rules.

We refer here to Madagascar’s intentions to open domestic trade, sell unaccounted stockpiles and risk exacerbating deforestation without strict monitoring. Careful consideration is essential; permitting rosewood trade without scientific safeguards can dangerously hasten the degradation of Madagascar's remaining forests. The issue of Madagascar’s ‘domestic’ trade was finally addressed at the 77th CITES Standing Committee in November 2023 in Geneva. At that meeting, the United States and the European Union called for mechanisms to ensure that none of the stockpiled wood is used to launder freshly cut trees. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), on behalf of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), proposed that Madagascar set up an operational third-party independent monitoring system to ensure compliance with all facets of domestic use or trade, secure the official stockpiles, and consider countering the threat that these stockpiles will be used to launder other logs and freshly cut trees, by consolidating all of the ‘official’ stockpiles into a single secure location and allowing only wood sourced from this stockpile to be utilized for trade.

The CITES Parties concluded that the CITES Secretariat should create the Terms of Reference for a Consultative Group to support Madagascar in the domestic use of the rosewood and ebony stockpiles scattered around the country—as per email exchange of 22 January, “The Secretariat is currently liaising with Madagascar on the development of these terms of reference.”

The Parties' decision did not restrict the Consultative Group’s mandate to encompass only the ‘official’ stockpiles and it did not give the Secretariat guidance on how the Consultative Group was to ensure that the proposed domestic trade does not further endanger the remaining endemic Dalbergia spp. and Diospyros spp. trees. The decision also did not specify the makeup of the Consultative Group, but as the idea was suggested by WWF and other NGOs, there should be NGO representation in it. As of the publication date of this blog, there is no indication of whether there are plans to broaden the membership to incorporate NGOs.

The fate of what are arguably the world’s most valuable and coveted timber stockpiles, lies in the hands of CITES.
The same applies to the continued survival of Madagascar’s endemic rosewood and ebony species. What transpires in Madagascar will have global repercussions which will extend beyond only rosewood and ebony: the creation of ‘domestic’ trade in highly- prized endangered species to avoid CITES jurisdiction, threatens to undermine CITES ability to control international trade in those very same species. What will CITES do when it comes to a domestic trade in ivory, rhino horn, tiger skin, shark fins, orchids, or other listed species? If domestic trade in a listed species exists, CITES must make sure that it is not instigating illegal international trade.

In the current scenario of Madagascar’s ‘domestic’ trade, the critical measure of verifying, inventorying, and marking the ‘controlled’ stockpiles before any use—an essential safeguard against large scale laundering—has not been implemented by the government of Madagascar. As Madagascar is undergoing a series of terrible socio-economic crises, it is essential that any timber disposal process, for alleged domestic use or international trade is structured to strengthen governance and improves its people’s livelihoods.Such trade ought to increase transparency and accountability in the use of its forest resources, rather than deplete and weaken them.

In order for a “domestic” trade in rosewood and ebony not to further endanger the remaining living trees of these endemic genera, it will be necessary for the Consultative Group to return to basics and:

  • Establish an operational independent, third-party monitor to supervise and ensure compliance in all facets of domestic use or trade.
  • Secure the official stockpiles and establish a reliable inventory and marking system of all logs in the official stockpiles before utilization or trade.
  • Consolidate all logs in the official stockpiles into a single, secured location.
  • Develop a robust control and tracking system for the logs released for domestic use or trade under the auspices of the independent monitor.
  • Create a documentation and marking system to ensure proof of legal acquisition of all logs from the official stockpiles which are allocated to construction of government buildings, as well as of all logs designated for use of creating artifacts.
  • Define qualifying projects for ‘governmental’ construction and lay out transparent procedures to be used by the government for a) the selection of the people who will undertake the construction activities and b) for the selection and tracking of logs to be used in the construction activities.
  • Define clear and equitable criteria, possibly involving a licensing system and background checks, to identify individuals eligible as ‘artisans’ who are authorized to extract logs from official stockpiles.
  • Set clear criteria for determining the definition of a ‘handicraft’ item which is created using these logs. Additionally, ensuring that the logs released to make handicrafts are not channeled into the provision of fresh supply materials for foreign commercial ventures dealing in these precious timber products.
  • Establish a mechanism to guarantee that every log provided to an artisan is fully utilized for making ‘handicrafts’, and establish a tracing system linking each handicraft to a particular log, thereby confirming the legality of the log’s origin.

This is Message in a Capsule #7

Image 1: rosewood stocks; by L. Taylor

Image 2: rosewood stump. Source: EIA-US, with permission