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U.S.-Albania Cultural Property Agreement and Extension and Amendment of Agreements with Egypt

April 6, 2021
By: Lois E. Wetzel


On March 17 and 19, 2021, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“the Committee”) convened to review the request by the Government of the Republic of Albania (“Albania”) seeking U.S. import restrictions on certain archaeological and ethnological material. The Committee also reviewed the proposed extension and amendment of the extant cultural property agreement between the U.S. and the Government of the Arab republic of Egypt (“Egypt”).

Albania Request

Albania’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:

1.       That the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party;

2.       That the State Party has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;

3.       That—

                                 i.            the application of the import restrictions … would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and

                               ii.            remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and

4.       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.

Albania has requested that there be import restrictions imposed on specific archaeological materials that date from the Middle Paleolithic to the Ottoman Period, and include stone, ceramic, metal, glass, wood, and other organic materials. The ethnological materials that would be protected under the proposed agreement date from the Byzantine, Middle Age, and Ottoman periods, covering sacred icons and frescoes, written material such as illuminated manuscripts and codices, traditional clothing, religious vestments, ceremonial paraphernalia, and architectural elements, sculptures, and mosaics or reliefs found in historical or religious structures. The full list of material that would be covered under the proposed agreement has not been published.

Egypt Proposed Extension and Amendment

The U.S. entered into the initial cultural property agreement with Egypt in 2016. This would be the first extension of the agreement that is otherwise set to expire in November of this year. Egypt’s proposal for extension also includes an amendment to the extant agreement. Egypt has requested that the agreement be amended to include Egyptian archaeological and ethnological cultural property that is 100 years old or older; this would include material from the Ottoman Period and Muhammad Ali dynasty. The full list of material already covered under the current agreement with Egypt can be found here.

The public comments submitted regarding Albania’s request and Egypt’s extension may be viewed 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.

If you have any questions concerning the Committee’s meeting on proposed cultural property agreements with Albania and/or extensions and amendments to the Egypt agreement, or questions regarding importing cultural property generally, do not hesitate to contact anattorneyat Barnes, Richardson & Colburn LLP.