Strassel: Stringing Up Gibson Guitar

Aren’t trees the ultimate renewable resource?

Kim Strassel writes in the Wall Street Journal:

On a sweltering day in August, federal agents raided the Tennessee factories of the storied Gibson Guitar Corp. The suggestion was that Gibson had violated the Lacey Act—a federal law designed to protect wildlife—by importing certain India ebony. The company has vehemently denied that suggestion and has yet to be charged. It is instead living in a state of harassed legal limbo.

Which, let’s be clear, is exactly what its persecutors had planned all along. The untold story of Gibson is this: It was set up…

The Lacey Act was passed in 1900 to stop trade in illegal wild game. Over the years it has expanded, and today it encompasses a range of endangered species. It requires American businesses to follow both U.S. and foreign law, though with most Lacey goods, this has been relatively clear. Think elephant tusks, tiger pelts or tropical birds.

That changed in 2007, when an alliance of environmentalists, labor unions and industry groups began pushing for Lacey to cover “plant and plant products” and related items. Congress had previously resisted such a broad definition for the simple reason that it would encompass timber products. Trees are ubiquitous, are transformed into thousands of byproducts, and pass through dozens of countries…

The drive [to expand the Lacey Act] was headed up by a murky British green outfit called the Environmental Investigation Agency. The EIA is anti-logging, and, like most environmental groups, understands that the best way to force developing countries to “preserve” their natural resources is to dry up the market for their products. They would prefer that wood be sourced from the U.S. and Europe, where green groups have more influence over rules…

The EIA was joined by labor unions such as the Teamsters and industry groups such as the American Forest and Paper Association. As Mark Barford of the Memphis-based National Hardwood Lumber Association told one news outlet: “We need the protection of the Lacey Act. . . . Our small, little companies cannot compete with artificially low prices from wood that comes in illegally. . . . This is our Jobs Act”…

Mr. Wyden cleverly attached it to the wildly popular 2008 farm bill, guaranteeing its passage…

And so Gibson has been trapped, as intended. The company, after all, is not accused of importing banned wood (say, Brazilian mahogany). The ebony it bought is legal and documented. The issue is whether Gibson ran afoul of a technical Indian law governing the export of finished wood products. The U.S. government’s interpretation of Indian law suggests the wood Gibson imported wasn’t finished enough. Got that?…

Read Strassel’s full column (subscription required).

3 responses to “Strassel: Stringing Up Gibson Guitar

  1. Hi, just wanted to tell you, I loved this post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!

  2. Gibson is also being singled out because it is not a union shop, which the Obama administration hates. You will note that not one other US luthier has been targetted for violation of the Lacey Act. Is this just another coincidence? You add it up.

  3. Doug has a point. There was a good interview on Peter Schiff’s radio show with the CEO that highlighted a lot of the fishy things about the raid.

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