In just over two years time enforcement is due for the European Union’s new import licensing regulation 2019/880 which affects cultural property, especially antiquities. An electronic licensing system, known as ICG (Import of Cultural Goods), to be used by EU Customs, is due to be implemented by 28 June 2025. When this is in place, anyone wishing to import cultural goods originating from outside the EU into the EU must follow new rules, specifically by applying for an import licence or by issuing an importer statement. The new regulations will not only cover antiquities, but also native and tribal art from the Americas, African and Asian art from China, Japan, India, Cambodia and Thailand, and also include Oceanic art from the Pacific, and Middle Eastern and North African artefacts. There will be no value threshold, so even the most humble artefacts will be subject to this process. The import process will require submission of extensive documentation proving legal export from the country of origin and is likely to be a lengthy process, possibly extending several months.
The new EU regulation asserts that acceptable proof of legal export from the country of origin requires an export certificate or licence from the exporting country. Even where licences were issued, there is no guarantee they still exist as there has never been a requirement to retain export licences once used. Even when licences do exist, they are often simplistic in description, lack measurements or photographs, so could relate to any number of items. Further most items on the market have simply lost any supporting paperwork, if any existed in the first place.
A Cypriot export licence dating from 1960 for export of some ancient pottery, note the simplistic description with no measurements given or photographs, making it difficult to link to specific objects with certainty.
Under the new regulations, the importer (the buyer) is liable 'under penalty of law' for the validity of all the documentation submitted in support of an import licence.
Compliance with the new regulations risk being so onerous and costly in terms of time and money that they will kill off significant levels of international trade with the EU. They will also create unacceptable levels of legal liability for importers (buyers) – a further reason for dealers to abandon trade with Europe. It simply won't be worth the effort and liability to export most antiquities to collectors in EU countries.
In an important article in Cultural Property News, the Antiquities Forum discuss the implications of the forthcoming implementation of EU licensing regulation 2019/880 for cultural property, particularly the anticipated difficulties in compliance and the cost implications for the art market - essential reading for EU-based collectors. We encourage all collectors to subscribe to the Cultural Property News Newsletter, which we consider essential reading.
The Antiquities Dealers Association and the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art have formed the Antiquities Forum on Linkedin to counter misinformation on the trade and collecting.