EU Agrees on Import Measures for Cultural Property

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from the IADAA Newsletter

January 10, 2018 – Almost three years after launching the process, the European Parliament, Commission and Council of the European Union have reached agreement on a new system of import measures for cultural property to be harmonised across member states.

Worst case scenario avoided

The art market, which has campaigned against aspects of the proposals because of the serious damage it perceives will be inflicted on legitimate activity, awaits clarity on a number of points after the December 11 decision. However, IADAA, which has played a central role in the campaign over the past three years, believes the concessions it has won alongside fellow campaign groups like the ADA and CINOA have mitigated the worst effects.
The initial objective of the proposals was to prevent trafficked items that could have funded terrorism from being imported into the EU. The Commission vowed to press ahead with measures even though its own research could not uncover any evidence of there being a problem within the EU. This meant that it wanted restrictions to control what came in and how it was processed on arrival.

Strictest rules for archaeological pieces

The plans involve a two-tier system based on perceived risk. Archaeological pieces face the strictest rules as the authorities deem them most at risk from exploitation by terrorists, despite the lack of evidence to show this. Those wishing to import them will have to provide extensive identifying documentation, including showing that they were legally exported from the last country in which they rested for a period of no less than five years, although what the EU really wants to see is proof of legitimate export from the country of origin, regardless of when that was, usually in the form of an export licence, despite experience showing that these documents hardly ever exist (or were kept). Before IADAA’s intervention, the proposal was for a period of 20 years, not five, and importers had no leeway at all on the level of proof, being instructed to “show proof” of legal export from the country of origin regardless of when that had been, or be denied import.

Even minor objects have to bee declared piece by piece

What especially concerns campaigners is that this class of goods carries no value threshold, meaning that even the least valuable items, such as individual arrow heads and oil lamps, which previously could be grouped together in a single licence application, will have to be treated separately. The vast numbers of licence applications for small items traded on the internet that will arise as a result risk bringing customs to a standstill, which means they will not have the resources to tackle real crime, thereby possibly making things easier for traffickers.

Electronic system is postponed to 2024, 2026 at the latest

The Commission’s original proposal stated that an electronic system may be developed, but trade campaigners including IADAA insisted that any measure would only be workable with a fully functional electronic system in place. This has been accepted with as result that the import licensing and importer statement system will not start before 2024 or, at the latest, 2026. That gives us seven or eight years to see how details of the process will actually work and seek to amend weak areas that will damage trade and hamper customs.
The proposals did include a derogation for the temporary import of cultural property for educational, scientific and other non-commercial purposes; campaigners persuaded the lawmakers to add a clause allowing temporary import for the purposes of art fairs too, but this is now only permitted with a supporting importer statement for each item, thus not cutting red tape at all.

Attending an art fair will become difficult

While that may sound sensible, the problem is that this would entail hundreds, if not thousands of last-minute applications preceding large fairs arriving at customs, who would not have the capacity to cope, and the regulations stipulate permissible delays of several months in processing applications, which, of course, would be too late for the fair.
While any goods outside the “at risk” category, such as Contemporary art, will avoid such measures because of a minimum age threshold of 200 years, others, like Asian art, Arms & Armour and general antiques, among many more, are likely to face real problems, which would have a serious impact on the diversity of major fairs.
Other areas continue to cause concern, including what appears to be an attempt to enforce a UNESCO Convention date of April 24, 1972 on all imports regardless of the various ratification dates of countries of origin.
We also have further questions over some of the definitions involved and how clear they are, but all in all, the results show how our investment in campaigning is paying off in members’ interests.

An additional benefit has been the network of contacts we have been building as a result at the heart of the Brussels machine, which should stand us in good stead in future, as well as a growing understanding of the processes involved and a higher profile for IADAA among decision makers.

This article was first published in the IADAA newsletter. You can find previous issues and subscribe here to the IADAA newsletter.

To learn more about the IADAA, the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art go to the IADAA website.

And for prior articles on the subject browse our cultural property issues category.