As will become more apparent from my upcoming summary of its public session on Chinese import restrictions, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee appears to have devolved into little more than a complaints bureau for museums and archaeologists with gripes about a source country’s compliance with promises made to these groups in order to secure a MOU with the United States. Import restrictions associated with those MOUs, of course, “stick it” to collectors and the small businesses of the coin and antiquities trade all in the name of “protecting archaeological sites.” But what is really ridiculous this time around is that the EXACT SAME artifacts that Americans are no longer free to import are openly available for sale on Chinese markets, and in immense quantities that dwarf any market here.
It was not supposed to be that way. Instead, CPAC was supposed to provide useful advice to the executive branch about protecting both foreign archaeological contexts and protecting US based business and cultural interests.
What happened? First, Senator Moynihan, who ensured that the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act reflected this balance, retired from the Senate. And then over time, the State Department chipped away at the considerable substantive and procedural constraints found in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, going so far as to ignore CPAC’s recommendations that there should be no import restrictions on artifacts as common as historical coins and then misleading Congress and the public about it. Most recently, CPAC has been packed with archaeological supporters, including in slots reserved for the public. No wonder CPAC has become little more than a complaints bureau and rubber stamp for the State Department’s prejudged decision-making favoring the interests of foreign cultural bureaucracies and their allies in the archaeological and museum communities.