The Department of State has issued the following press release concerning the MOU with China:
The State Department has also released the text of the MOU: http://culturalheritage.state.gov/ch2009MOU.pdf
On an initial read, two of the provisions stand out:
9. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall continue to license the sale and export of certain antiquities as provided by law and will explore ways to make more of these objects available licitly.
10. Recognizing that, pursuant to this Memorandum of Understanding, museums in the United States will be restricted from acquiring certain archaeological objects, the Government of the People’s Republic of China agrees that its museums will similarly refrain from acquiring such restricted archaeological objects that are looted and illegally exported from Mainland China to destinations abroad, unless the seller or donor provides evidence of legal export from Mainland China or verifiable documentation that the item left Mainland China prior to the imposition of U.S. import restrictions. This will apply to purchases made outside Mainland China by any museum in Mainland China and only to the categories of objects representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period through the end of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 907), and monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old, as covered by this Memorandum of Understanding.
The first may be considered as a recognition that licit markets exist in China and that opportunities for licit export may be expanded. The second point may be viewed as a recognition that Chinese museums (many of which though technically "private" are in fact run by entities associated with elements within the government) should be held to the same standards as American museums-- at least as to artifacts acquired abroad.
Finally, today's New York Times has a story about the agreement: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/arts/design/17arti.html?_r=1&scp=7&sq=China%20Kennedy&st=cse
Despite the title that suggests little opposition to the agreement, I find the text to be fairly balanced.
I would, however, echo Jim Lally's concerns about fair enforcement, particularly when it comes to coins. Indeed, many Chinese coins of the types covered under the agreement have so little monetary value that it makes little sense for importers to go through the time and effort to secure the necessary certifications for licit import. For example, at the CPAC hearing in February 2005, I passed around a Han Dynasty cash coin from the 1st c. BC (bought for $2.25) and a Tang Dynasty cash coin c. 618-907 AD (bought for $8.00).
Given the transactional costs involved in preparing the necessary paperwork, again, we have the classic case of government regulation falling heavily on those who want to comply with the law by declaring items properly. In contrast, others so inclined will probably be able to easily smuggle these highly concealable objects into the country with only a limited chance of "getting caught."