APHIS officials, who said the shipments are currently being held at a U.S. port, said they decided to take the step when the government of Brazil was unable to confirm that the wood was legally acquired.

"Today's action to refuse entry to these shipments is evidence of the U.S. government's commitment to its obligations as a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)," said Bill Hawks, undersecretary of USDA's marketing and regulatory programs.

"We have also worked with our trading partners to raise the level of protection for bigleaf mahogany under CITES."

Bigleaf mahogany is protected under CITES, an international convention that promotes the protection of endangered species in international trade. Six Latin American countries have listed their populations of bigleaf mahogany in CITES in Appendix III.

In November, based on a decision by the Conference of Parties, the level of protection will rise to Appendix II in order to further ensure that trade is not detrimental to survival of the species in the wild.

Currently, under the requirements of Appendix III, countries must determine that the mahogany was legally acquired in order to issue an export permit. As a member of the CITES convention, Brazil must provide export permits for all mahogany shipments. APHIS had been holding Brazilian mahogany at U.S. ports for 15 months, pending a determination by Brazilian authorities that the export permits accompanying the shipments were valid and the wood was legally acquired.

As the U.S. management authority for CITES, the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for implementing all aspects of CITES within the United States. FWS enforces CITES regulations for CITES-listed species and their parts and products being transported into or out of the United States.

FWS ensures that importers and exporters have the proper permits for transporting and trading CITES-listed species. APHIS is responsible for enforcing the provisions of CITES related to plants and works closely with FWS.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com