U.N. Conference Votes to Regulate Perfume Wood
BANGKOK A U.N. conference voted on Wednesday to regulate global trade in agarwood, a fragrant wood highly coveted for perfumes in the Middle East and traditional medicines in Asia.
Conservationists hailed the decision as a key step against illegal harvesting of the high-demand wood found across Asia and commanding prices of up to $10,000 per kg.
"This unique group of agarwood-producing trees species is clearly threatened by trade, and unless this is better regulated, long-term supplies remain in jeopardy," said James Compton, Southeast Asia director for Traffic, a group which monitors trade in endangered species.
The decision made at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) conference in Bangkok places two species of agarwood-producing trees on CITES Appendix II which strictly regulates but does not outright ban trade at Indonesia's request.
The more than 20 species grouped under the genera Aquilaria and Gyrinops account for the bulk of the agarwood highly sought in Middle East where it is used to make oud oil.
Its wood-scented fragrance is used in mosques to welcome visitors. It is also used to ward off evil spirits and win lovers.
Eastern legend has it that Adam was only allowed to take the agarwood tree with him from the Garden of Eden.
Agarwood is also in demand for traditional medicines in China and Japan, but scarcity has driven up prices steadily.
Mid-level grades of the wood can fetch $1,000 per kg on the streets of Bangkok and Singapore, increasing 10-fold by the time it reaches markets in the Middle East and East Asia.
The value has fueled illegal harvesting in national parks across Southeast Asia. Poachers ignore permit systems to regulate the harvest and trade in major agarwood exporters such as Indonesia and Malaysia, Traffic said.
"Appendix II is not a trade ban but a management intervention that will help ensure legality, promote sustainability, and enable more accurate monitoring of the agarwood trade," Compton said.
Reporting by Darren Schuettler, editing by Michael Battye