Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Please Comment on the Proposed MOU's with Turkey and Tunisia

            The United States Department of State has proposed new Memorandums of Understanding (MOU’s) with Turkey and Tunisia.  Both proposals will be extremely problematical for coin collectors as MOU's could impose embargoes on the import of a wide variety of widely collected Greek, Carthaginian, Roman Provincial, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic coins.  Further information about the January 21, 2020 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting and how to comment before the January 7, 2020 deadline can be found here:  https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/11/26/2019-25683/cultural-property-advisory-committee-notice-of-meeting 

A.  Background for Coin Collectors

             There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US.  Very few collectors do so to “invest.”  Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures.  All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses. Private collectors and dealers support much academic research into coins.  For example, an American collector collaborated with academics to produce an extensive study of Seleucid coins. A further clamp down on collecting will inevitably lead to less scholarship.

            While what became the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was being negotiated, one of the State Department’s top lawyers assured Congress that “it would be hard to imagine a case” where coins would be restricted.   In 2007, however, the State Department imposed import restrictions on Cypriot coins, against CPAC’s recommendations, and then misled the public and Congress about it in official government reports.  What also should be troubling is that the decision maker, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell, did so AFTER she had accepted a job with Goldman Sachs where she was recruited by and worked for the spouse of the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for import restrictions.  Since that time, additional import restrictions have been imposed on coins from Algeria, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Libya and Syria. 

            The cumulative impact of import restrictions has been very problematical for collectors since outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606.  The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on coins and other artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of either Turkey or Tunisia. (19 U.S.C. § 2601). Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations.  (19 U.S.C. § 2606).  Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly.  In particular, designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control.  Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.

      B.  What You Can Do

                Admittedly, CPAC seems to be little more than a rubber stamp.  Still, to remain silent is to give the cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors exactly what they want-- the claim that any restrictions will not be controversial. 

            For comments, please use http://www.regulations.gov, enter the docket [DOS-2019-0043] and follow the prompts to submit your comments.  Alternatively, click this Federal Register link and click on the Green “Submit Formal Comment” Button which should pull up a screen that allows you to comment:  https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/11/26/2019-25683/cultural-property-advisory-committee-notice-of-meeting)(Please note comments may be posted only UNTIL January 7, 2020 at 11:59 PM.

            Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. Because the comments cannot be edited to remove any identifying or contact information, the Department of State cautions against including any information in an electronic submission that one does not want publicly disclosed (including trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1)).

C.  What Should You Say?

What should you say?  Provide a brief, polite explanation about why CPAC should deny or limit any import restrictions. Consider the following points:

  • The governing statute requires that restrictions only be applied on artifacts "first discovered in” Turkey or Tunisia. But hoard evidence demonstrates that many Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic coins circulated extensively outside the confines of those modern nation states.  The State Department and U.S. Customs have already recognized this fact for higher denomination Greek coins struck in Greece.  To be consistent, any restrictions should not touch higher denomination coins from Turkey or Tunisia, including Roman Provincial Silver, tetradrachms, and gold coins.  Nor should restrictions be placed on Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic coins struck in these countries. Such imperial coins circulated throughout the Empires for which they were made and beyond.  
  • The governing statute requires restrictions only be placed on artifacts of "cultural significance." But coins -- which exist in many multiples-- do not meet that particular criteria.
  • The governing statute requires that less drastic remedies be tried before import restrictions. But neither Turkey nor Tunisia has tried systems akin the UK Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme before seeking restrictions.
  • The governing statute requires that restrictions be consistent with the interests of the international community in cultural exchanges. But restrictions diminish the ability of American collectors (particularly Turkish or Tunisian Americans) to appreciate the cultural heritage of these countries and greatly limit people to people contacts with other collectors in Europe.
  • Much of what Turkey would be allowed to “claw back” if a MOU is granted are cultural artifacts of displaced Greek, Armenian and Jewish populations.  That simply should not be allowed to happen as it would only reward Turkey for its harsh policies to ethnic and religious minorities. 
Finally, you don’t have to be an American citizen to comment—you just need to be concerned enough to spend twenty or so minutes to express your views on-line. 

Addendum (Dec. 9, 2019):  For more information about the requests and the process, see the Cultural Heritage Center's post about the upcoming CPAC meeting:  https://eca.state.gov/highlight/cultural-property-advisory-committee-meeting-jan-21-22-2020