Thursday, December 13, 2012

Importing Cultural Objects Legally: Information Required for U.S. Customs Import Rulings

On December 3, 2012 this blog discussed The Cultural Property Importer's Responsibility.  Today's post continues that discussion by describing the information required by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when assessing whether a cultural object may be imported lawfully.

Source: CBP
CBP will issue binding interpretations of law regarding cultural property imports when requested in writing.  19 CFR 177.  CBP, for example, will determine the tariff schedule that a cultural property import falls under, such as subheading 9705.00.0070 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), which typically covers collectors' pieces of archaeological, historical, paleontological, ethnographic, numismatic, and similar categories.  More importantly, CBP will definitively rule whether a cultural object is permitted into the United States.

Museums, antiquities dealers, ancient coin sellers and others are keenly aware of the variety of cultural property, criminal, customs, civil, and other laws that can affect the lawful import of cultural objects.  These laws potentially can subject cultural objects to seizure and forfeiture, and they can prompt criminal charges against individuals for smuggling, receiving stolen property, or other crimes.  That is why a binding customs ruling can be a great benefit.  An official ruling can ensure the legality of an object's import, offering protection from legal liability and preventing "hot" objects from entering the U.S. in violation of American import rules.

A March 10, 2011 customs ruling (NY N148735) describes the types of information that importers or other interested parties should provide to CBP so that the agency can evaluate the lawful entry of a cultural good.  That case ruled on the tariff classification of a silver Dancing Satyr sculpture from the Roman era, and was decided in response to a request filed on behalf of art dealer Robert Haber and Associates.  CBP's National Commodity Specialist Division gives this important advice, applicable to all importers of cultural property:

"If you want a ruling on the admissibility of the Dancing Satyr statue, please furnish to the best of your abilities the following information on the provenance of the antiquity, the history of the item since its removal from the area of origin:

(1) verifiable documentation that the item has been in a private collection or in the same family for several generations or that it was acquired a long time ago,

(2) full names and contact information for all private parties that the seller claims previously owned the item,

(3) full names and contact information of all galleries or auction houses that the seller claims previously owned the item – if the gallery is the owner verifiable information on the previous owner/s as in [1] and [2] above,

(4) an illustration of the item taken from a dated, old auction catalog depicting and describing the exact item,

(5) a dated, signed certificate or statement of authenticity with illustrative photo associated to the item’s description from a respected authority or expert within the field,

(6) all original sales receipts establishing date of purchase,

(7) a film or recording or magazine (literature) talking about the item that can establish time of original purchase or subsequent purchases,

(8) dated letters or papers from recognized experts or authorities discussing the item,

(9) a dated appraisal from a recognized authority or expert with photo and description of the item, and

(10) an analytical investigation report with photo, description and technical write-up establishing a relative timeframe of the piece."

Following customs rules is important and mandatory for cultural property importers.  There is no better way to comply with import regulations than to seek a binding customs ruling and by providing complete information about an object's history to the fullest extent possible.


This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com