Friday, February 21, 2014

Chinese and Bulgarian MOUs: Export Certificates for Cultural Goods Promised; But Are They Illusory?

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center have released copies of the recent revised MOU with China and the new agreement with Bulgaria.   In return for an embargo on the import of undocumented artifacts from third countries, China and Bulgaria appear to promise to make export certificates available for such items exported directly from those two UNESCO State parties.

Specifically, in its MOU with the United States, China promises:

"With respect to Chinese cultural objects that meet the following four conditions: a.) legally exported as part of a private collection of Chinese heirlooms, b) legally transferred among owners, c) purchased and imported by residents of China, and d) declared upon import to China and registered with relevant authorities, the Government of the People's Republic of China shall seek legislative action that permits their re-export."

See Art. II, Sec. 8.

Moreover, in its MOU with the United States, Bulgaria promises:

"Regarding export permits, the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria shall (1) gather and track certificates on the number of such permits requested and issued for both temporary and permanent export of cultural property pursuant to existing laws and regulations; and (2) ensure the process of applying for such permits of export and temporary export is accessible and clear."

See Art. II, Sec. 5.

But how does this square with information that China has recently banned the export of any artifact produced before 1911 and that Bulgaria has only issued export permits for temporary exhibitions abroad, most notably for a controversial exhibition of artifacts called, "the Grandeur of Bulgaria," exhibited at the European Parliament?  (Of course, as a practical matter, no export permits are required for the movement of Bulgarian cultural artifacts throughout the rest of the EU.)

More to the point, are these MOU provisions for "cosmetic purposes" only?  And, if so, is the State Department and its Cultural Heritage Center misleading Congress and the public about the true nature of these MOUs?

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