Thursday, May 6, 2010

My Oral Comments at CPAC Hearing on Italy: Keep Coins Off the Designated List

Here is what I said more or less during today's CPAC Hearing on the renewal of the Italian MOU:

My name is Peter Tompa of Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC. Thank you for allowing IAPN and PNG- two trade associations representing the small businesses of the numismatic trade – the opportunity to speak to you today.

I must confess I don’t even know if the ancient coin community has been properly invited to this party. The Federal Register notice fails to indicate whether Italy has even asked you to reconsider import restrictions on coins. Although I wrote Undersecretary McHale to ask, the State Department isn’t telling. But, based on the last minute addition of coins to the Cypriot renewal, it is better to be safe than sorry. I am sorry, however, that the comment period was so short. CPAC received over 1900 faxes from concerned coin collectors, but only the Internet savvy will have heard about the comment period before it closed.

One way or the other, you should deny any effort to extend new import restrictions to coins. CPAC has on two prior occasions recommended against import restrictions on ancient Greek and Roman coins struck in Italy. Nothing has changed to justify a change in that precedent.

The Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”) only allows for restrictions on artifacts “first discovered within” Italy. But, one cannot assume that Greek and Roman coins struck in Italy were found there. It is beyond dispute Roman coins circulated far and wide and, as our papers show, it also is clear that Greek coins struck in Italy circulated outside of Italy.

The very idea of restrictions runs up against the reality on the ground. Italians trade and collect unprovenanced Greek and Roman coins quite freely—just like their fellow collectors in the rest of the EU. This brings us to the CPIA’s “concerted international response” requirement. That provision –which seeks to ensure the comity and effectiveness of any import restrictions--- cannot possibly be met here.

As our papers show, the U.S. market for ancient coins is relatively small compared to the European market. In addition, neither the EU nor Switzerland restricts the trade in unprovenanced ancient coins from Italy. For example, the UK and Germany allow for the free export and import of such coins not directly from archaeological sites and the Swiss-Italian bilateral agreement also exempts ancient coins. Under the circumstances, import restrictions on ancient Greek and Roman coins can only discriminate against Americans. This would lead to a ridiculous and unfair result: American citizens—including those of Italian descent—would find it difficult, if not impossible, to import such coins while Italian citizens and fellow collectors in the EU could continue to collect and trade in such coins unabated.

Thank you again for your allowing me the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of the small businesses of the numismatic trade. Please feel free to ask me any questions.

I hope to be able to write more about the CPAC hearing in the near future.


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