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Artifacts damaged due to illegal trade in Palmyra, Syria (via Wikimedia Commons)

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As part of its post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, the United Kingdom has rejected new import licensing regulations imposed by the EU designed to safeguard cultural heritage from illegal trafficking, according to the Art Newspaper.

The regulations were introduced by the European Union in April 2019 and are meant to protect against the illicit trade in cultural property, including terrorist financing and money laundering. The legislation requires import licenses for art, antiques, books, and other artifacts that are more than 250 years old before they can enter any EU country. To acquire the rights, importers must prove that their goods were legally exported from the country of origin.

Under the new rules, there are no licensing requirements for importing objects of cultural interest into the UK. (Travelers will still need to comply with individual EU countries’ export licensing laws.)

The legislation, the first common EU law of its kind concerning imports of cultural property, attempts to control the looting and trafficking of antiquities, a thriving, multi-billion-dollar industry that has repercussions far beyond the arts sector. For example, the illegal trade of cultural goods often contributes to funding organized crime, according to Interpol.

In one crackdown last year, organizations recovered over 19,000 archaeological artifacts and other artworks looted from war-stricken countries or stolen from museums and archaeological sites.

According to the text of the 2019 legislation, “pillaging of archaeological sites has always happened, but has now reached an industrial scale.”

“Together with trade in illegally excavated cultural goods, [it] is a serious crime that causes significant suffering to those directly or indirectly affected,” the text continues. “The illicit trade in cultural goods in many cases contributes to forceful cultural homogenisation or forceful loss of cultural identity, while the pillage of cultural goods leads, inter alia, to the disintegration of cultures.”

The law was not met with widespread enthusiasm among commercial art dealers, some of whom feared that tightened trade regulations would negatively impact the industry.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, told the Art Newspaper last year that “[the] proposal is based on inaccurate information…members of the European Parliament have shown a distinct lack of understanding of, and curiosity about, the issues at hand as they press ahead with measures that would greatly damage the international art market.”

Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the Brodsky Scholarship for Latin American...