CITES trade controls to take effect for mahogany

Updated on 21 August 2022


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CITES trade controls to take effect for mahogany

Geneva, 11 November 2003 – Internationally agreed trade regulations for big-leaf mahogany will enter into force on 15 November. This tropical timber generates over 100 million dollars a year in export sales, making it one of the world’s most valuable forest products.

The controls were adopted one year ago by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which has now 164 member States. The neotropical populations of big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) will now be listed on CITES Appendix II, which requires that shipments of this timber be accompanied by a CITES export permit.

“Illegal logging and unsustainable export levels are threatening to render big-leaf mahogany commercially extinct in the near future, a trend that has been reflected in recent years by rising prices,” stated CITES Secretary-General Willem Wijnstekers.

“By relying on the CITES permit system, exporters, importers and consumers of mahogany can be confident that they are using only legally and sustainably harvested timber. The new regulations will also benefit local and indigenous communities, which until now have not received their fair share of the income from mahogany sales,” he said.

Admired for its high quality, beauty and durability, mahogany is made into luxury furniture, boats, expensive panelling, musical instruments and other wood products. One cubic metre of big-leaf mahogany can fetch some USD 1,300 on the international market and one tree alone can produce more than USD 100,000 worth of high-quality furniture. In the year 2000, Latin America exported some 120,000 cubic metres of big-leaf mahogany.

Big-leaf mahogany thrives in dry tropical forests ranging from southern Mexico to the Amazon basin. It can grow to 70 m, with an average height of 30-40 m, and trunks can reach 3.5 m in diameter.

The mahogany range has become fragmented, many populations have declined dramatically and the building of access roads for mahogany lumbering has encouraged broader deforestation. Populations of big-leaf mahogany have declined by over 70% in Central America since 1950. The species is already reported to be commercially extinct in El Salvador, Costa Rica and parts of South America. The other two species of Latin American mahogany – the Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni) and Honduras mahogany (Swietenia humilis) – are also now commercially extinct. Today, the major natural stands of big-leaf mahogany are in Brazil, Bolivia and Peru. Plantations have been established in Fiji and other countries, but the CITES listing will not apply to them.

The leading importers of big-leaf mahogany are the United States – which alone accounts for some 60% of the entire market – the Dominican Republic, the United Kingdom and Spain. The Appendix-II listing will enable importing nations to better assist export nations with checking the legality of shipments and ensuring that the mahogany trade is fully transparent.

For exporting countries, an Appendix-II listing will provide the controls, information and tools they need to manage their mahogany resources and ensure that trade bans or commercial extinction are not the next step. CITES permits are only issued if Government-appointed Management Authorities can confirm that the timber has been obtained legally and independent Scientific Authorities certify that its harvesting is not detrimental to the survival of the species. CITES Authorities in both the exporting and importing countries are to monitor the shipments and verify the validity of each CITES permit.

Additional background information

CITES, whose Secretariat is administered by the United Nations Environment Programme, was adopted in 1973 to address the threat posed to wildlife by international trade. Unregulated international trade can push threatened and endangered species over the brink, especially when combined with habitat loss and other pressures. CITES accords varying degrees of regulation to more than 30,000 plant and animal species depending on their biological status and the impact that international trade may have upon them.

CITES provides three regulatory options in the form of Appendices. Animals and plants listed under Appendix I are excluded from international commercial trade except in very special circumstances. They include all the great apes; various big cats such as cheetahs, the snow leopard and the tiger; numerous birds of prey, cranes, and pheasants; all sea turtles; many species of crocodiles, tortoises and snakes; and some cacti and orchids.

Commercial trade is permitted for species listed in Appendix II, but it is strictly controlled on the basis of CITES permits. This Appendix includes all those primates, cats, cetaceans, parrots, crocodiles and orchids not listed in Appendix I.

Finally, Appendix III includes species that are protected within the borders of a member country. An Appendix-III listing allows a country to call on others to help it regulate trade in the listed species. This Appendix also requires CITES documentation. Six Latin American states had listed their populations of big-leafed mahogany in this Appendix before it became included in Appendix II.

Note to journalists: For more information, contact Juan-Carlos Vasquez at +41-22-8156 or [email protected], or Michael Williams at +41-79-409-1528 (cell), +41-22-917-8242 (office), or [email protected]. See also


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