Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Comments from Today's CPAC Hearing: It’s Time for a Reset for Import Restrictions on Coins

 I said this more or less at today's CPAC hearing to discuss proposed renewals of MOUs with Cyprus and Guatemala: 

            I am speaking on behalf of IAPN which represents the micro and small businesses of the numismatic trade.  In many ways, this hearing is a much greater test for CPAC than for ancient coin collectors.  We’ve heard a lot in the past several years about how the system is rigged.  Here, unfortunately, there is convincing evidence that may be the case.  

            For 25 years after the CPIA was passed, there were no restrictions on coins.   This should be no surprise.  Coins are items of commerce.  So, it is difficult for modern nation states to justifiably claim them as their “cultural property.”  They are among the most common of historical artifacts and while they may be of “archaeological interest”, they are generally not of “cultural significance.”  They are avidly collected and traded worldwide including in Cyprus.  It simply makes no sense to preclude Americans from importing such coins.   Indeed, when the CPIA was being discussed, Mark Feldman, a high-ranking State Department lawyer, represented to Congress that it was “hard … to imagine a case where we would need to deal with coins except in the most unusual circumstances.”

            In 2007, all this changed with Cypriot coins.   According to the declarations of two former CPAC Members, including Former Chair Kislak, that change was made against CPAC’s recommendations.  Moreover, there was an attempt to mislead the public and the Congress about CPAC’s opposition to import restrictions on coins.  Even worse, the decision maker made the decision after she had already announced she was leaving for a job at Goldman Sachs, where she was recruited by and worked for the husband of a former AIA trustee and the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, which has been highly active lobbying for import restrictions.  How can such a decision be a fair one?

            We are realists and understand at this point that import restrictions on coins are probably here to stay, but CPAC can still advocate for a reset on how they are implemented.  First, CPAC should insist that the State Department only apply restrictions to coins that are “exclusively found” within Cyprus or to those where there is proof that they were illicitly excavated there.  Only such coins can be “first discovered within, and … subject to export control by” Cyprus as required by the CPIA at 19 U.S.C. § 2601(2).   In contrast, the State Department’s current standard based on where a coin “primarily circulated” simply ignores these requirements.

            Second, even under a “primarily circulated” standard, certain coin types on the current designated list should be removed.  Here, numismatic research proves that all Cypriot mint gold and all Attic standard Hellenistic silver coins of Alexander the Great, Philip and Demetrius did not “primarily circulate” within Cyprus and should be delisted.

            Third, CPAC should ensure that the State Department only uses neutral experts to help prepare designated lists; not ones who have advocated for import restrictions in the past.  At a minimum, State should be directed to meet and confer with collectors and the trade on the contents of these lists.  Under no circumstances should collectors and US Customs be forced to guess what coin types are restricted and which are not, as is the case with the recent Turkish and amended Greek lists.

            Finally, no new restrictions should be contemplated for Guatemalan coins.  Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins are not archaeological in nature; they either do not meet the 250-year threshold and/or are not “normally discovered” within the ground.  Nor do such coins meet the definition of ethnological objects.  They are not the products of tribal cultures but were produced en masse with sophisticated industrial processes.  Finally, due to their wide circulation in international commerce, one cannot assume such coins were “first discovered within” and hence were “subject to export control by” Guatemalan authorities. Indeed, early coins that circulated within Guatemala were also legal tender in the United States until 1857.

            With these recommended actions, CPAC can demonstrate that it operates with fairness and adheres to the CPIA’s statutory requirements. 

            Thank you.

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