Cultural Property Update: Nigeria, Greece, and Bolivia
Nov. 9, 2020
By: Lois E. Wetzel
On October 27-29, 2020, the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (the Committee) convened to review the request by Nigeria seeking U.S. import restrictions on certain archaeological and ethnological material. The Committee also considered the proposed extensions of existing cultural property agreements between the U.S. and Greece as well as the U.S. and Bolivia.
Nigeria’s request for import restrictions on certain cultural material was made pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (The 1970 UNESCO Convention). The U.S. has implemented the 1970 UNESCO Convention with the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (CPIA). Per the CPIA, the government of any foreign country that is a State Party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention may request a cultural property agreement to the U.S. Department of State. In granting such a request, the U.S. agrees to impose import restrictions on certain cultural material that has been demonstrated by the requesting country to be at risk of looting and illicit trafficking. The Department has delegated the authority to grant or deny requests for cultural property agreements to the Committee. To grant a country’s request, CPAC must have made the following four determinations:
- That the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party;
- That the State Party has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
- the application of the import restrictions … would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and
- remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and
- That the application of the import restrictions in the particular circumstances is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.
Nigeria has requested that there be import restrictions imposed on specific archaeological materials, including terracotta figurines and vessels, bronze plaques and ornaments, stone figurines and funeral markers, ceramics, and carved ivory and wood. Nigeria has requested that import restrictions for ethnological materials include metal staffs, leather masks, manuscripts, wood masks and figurines used in religious activities or of communal significance. The entirety of Nigeria’s request has not been made public at this time though receipt of the request can be found here.
Greece and Bolivia Proposed Extensions
The U.S. entered into the initial cultural property agreement with Greece in 2011. The agreement was extended and amended in 2016. Greece’s latest proposal for extension, to be discussed in the upcoming meeting, requests that the agreement be amended to include post-Byzantine archaeological material and ethnological material dating up to A.D. 1830. The current list of material subject to import restrictions under U.S.-Greece agreement can be found here.
The U.S. entered into the initial cultural property agreement with Bolivia in 2001. There have been three extensions of the agreement (2006, 2011, 2016). There are no proposed amendments to the extant agreement between the U.S. and Bolivia to be considered at this time. The current list of material subject to import restrictions under U.S.-Bolivia agreement can be found here.
Effect of Cultural Property Agreements
The cultural property agreements entered into under the CPIA result in import restrictions that increase CBP’s scrutiny of importers of certain cultural material at the U.S. border. Importers of designated material that is subject to protection under a CPIA agreement must be prepared to present to CBP upon import either a certificate or other documentation from the State Party of lawful exportation or other satisfactory evidence that the subject material was exported from the State Party more than ten years before the date of entry or before the date on which the material became subject to import restrictions.
Failure to provide the necessary documentation for the imported material can result in CBP seizing the goods and where warranted, forfeiting the goods under laws specific to the CPIA. Thus importers of cultural material should be on notice as to what items are restricted under these agreements so as to prepare with proper documentation accordingly.
The meeting for Nigeria’s request and the extensions of Greece and Bolivia agreements took place in a virtual open session on October 27, 2020, at 2:00 p.m. EDT. The Committee has yet to announce its decisions regarding whether to enter into a new agreement with Nigeria and whether to extend the already existing agreements with Greece and Bolivia.
If you have any questions concerning the Committee’s meeting on cultural property agreements with Nigeria, Greece, or Bolivia, or questions regarding importing cultural property generally, do not hesitate to contact an attorney at Barnes, Richardson & Colburn LLP.