Close view of rosewood texture

CITES Standing Committee upholds suspension of trade in West African Rosewood

Parties to the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) upheld the trade suspension for Pterocarpus erinaceus, a threatened species of rosewood found in the dry savannahs of West Africa, at the 77th Meeting of the Standing Committee. Trade in the species will remain suspended until range States provide Non-Detriment Findings and Legal Acquisition Findings for any exports.

This decision followed the release of a brief by the Environmental Investigation Agency-US (EIA-US) and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) documenting the risks of lifting the trade suspension at SC77, showing the existence of ongoing trade in apparent violation of the current suspension and outlining concerns with recently submitted non-detriment findings purporting to show the sustainability of resuming trade in P. erinaceus. The brief builds on EIA’s investigative findings from 2022 documenting illegal logging and trade in the species in Mali, in apparent violation of the Convention, which recent media reporting suggests has continued despite the suspension. The brief urged parties to keep the current trade suspension in place.

“Given concerns about illegal logging, trafficking, and trade in the species, keeping the suspension in place is a good first step,” said Raphael Edou, Africa Program Manager at EIA-US. “The parties avoided a worst-case scenario for rosewood and for dry forests in West Africa.”

Edou added: “But there is work to be done to make sure that we do not lose the progress we have made in protecting this species. Parties should ensure all safeguards are in place before considering opening the rosewood Pandora’s box.” 

International trade in P. erinaceus has been effectively suspended since a Notification to the Parties issued in March 2022. Trade data analyzed by EIA and CIEL suggests that trade in the species spiked after the suspension as countries seemingly rushed to export, but has since declined significantly. The regional suspension simultaneously blocked cross-border timber movements and required China and other importers to halt imports from countries in the region. Previous efforts to address overexploitation and illegal trade in the species at a country-by-country level had been undermined by trafficking networks and the shifting of exploitation from country to country.

“The regional approach to the suspension has been absolutely critical to its success in protecting West African rosewood,” said Susanne Breitkopf, Deputy Director of the Forest Campaign with EIA-US. “Without the regional suspension, there is a significant risk that illegal logging and trafficking of the species will increase again.”

The proceedings at SC77 also underscored the need to address the issue of countries’ stockpiles of P. erinaceus, with some range states seeking to export stockpiles of the species. EIA and CIEL recommend that range States work to develop Non-Detriment Findings and Legal Acquisition Findings specifically for any future exports from stockpiles. An upcoming regional workshop to be held in 2024 should support range States in these efforts.

“Stockpiles of the species must be inventoried and secured,” said Melissa Blue Sky, a Senior Attorney at CIEL. “Absent these steps and the development of NDFs and LAFs specifically for stockpiles, there is a significant risk that once trade is authorized to resume, exports of timber from stockpiles will result in laundering of unsustainably and illegally harvested timber with CITES permits.”

Media Contacts: 

Africa Program Campaigner, EIA US, Luke Allen, [email protected]

Media Relations Specialist, CIEL, Niccolò Sarno, [email protected]