Here is what I said at today's CPAC hearing. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, I had to provide my comments via phone, and will not be able to produce a good summary of the meeting.
CPAC has an important role to ensure that congressionally mandated limitations on executive authority are honored.
Here, even assuming that all the criteria for import restrictions are met, CPAC must still ensure that the designated list only encompasses coins and other artifacts that were “first discovered within” and “subject to export control” by Cambodia, North Macedonia or Uzbekistan.
In other words, there needs to be documentary proof coins now sold on legitimate markets in places like Europe can only be found in Cambodia, North Macedon or Uzbekistan before they can lawfully be placed on the designated list.
Such an assumption is impossible to make here. The vast majority of coins that circulated in Cambodia, North Macedonia or Uzbekistan were made elsewhere and circulated either regionally or internationally as items of commerce. The number of these coins found in these countries is an insignificant percentage of the totals found elsewhere.
This is particularly true for coins like Alexander the Great tetradrachms and Roman Republican and Roman Imperial coins. Indeed, the State Department approved a speech given at a recent numismatic Congress in Warsaw that made that very same point for Roman Imperial coins.
CPAC must consider three other points. First, coins are the products of what at the time were sophisticated industrial practices. Moreover, coins by their nature are “common or repetitive or essentially alike in material design, color, or other outstanding characteristics with other objects of the same type.” As such, they cannot be considered “ethnological” objects.
Second, coins can only be found by design with metal detectors. Several comments, particularly one by Dr. Soren Stark, acknowledge that local officials are often well aware of these activities. That begs the question why regulations regarding metal detectors such as the institution of a Portable Antiquities Scheme are not tried as a “self-help” measure and a “less drastic remedy” first before limiting the ability of Americans to import coins further.
Finally, we acknowledge and appreciate the Antiquities Coalition’s statement that the CPIA is meant to only act prospectively to preclude import of artifacts illicitly exported from a State Party for which restrictions have been granted after the effective date of any governing regulations.
Unfortunately, however, Customs doesn’t see it that way and instead applies restrictions as embargoes on any item on the designated list imported after the effective date of the restrictions. This is a much broader construction of its authority that allows source countries to “claw back” artifacts imported from legitimate markets abroad. This also explains why CPAC’s attention to these issues is so important. Thank you.