Saturday, 1 April 2017

US President Repeals CCPIA

Jared Kuschner looks on as Trump signs order
Things seem not to be going well in the US State Department, I commented on the opacity that currently surrounds the fate of US cultural policy caused by the cessation of press briefings earlier and the worries that have been raised about the way it is being run and the looming budget cuts, now things have definitely taken a turn for the worse. In a surprise move which marks a definitive shift from soft power to focusing more on harder options in foreign policy, and apparently responding to lobbying from collectors and dealers, President Donald Trump by an executive order has just repealed the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation act. This immediately cancels the existing Memoranda of Understandings of the bilateral agreements with the following nations, reducing them to the status of all the rest: Belize, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, China, Colombia, Cyprus, Egypt, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Mali, Nicaragua and Peru. It seems (though this needs to be clarified) that the Emergency Actions concerning Iraq and Syria [the recent Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act] are still in place. The fate of the CPAC set up to adjudicate requests for bilateral agreements is also not at this stage clear.

The contents of the order were outlined to reporters in a sometimes tense briefing with a senior White House official, whom aides insisted speak without attribution. It was stated that President Trump is merely 'honouring the pledges and promises he made in his campaign, to bring back jobs, to grow the economy, and make America's borders safe'. It is argued that this new policy frees up trained border staff for more pressing needs. Whether or not that is true, the free flow of art and artefacts will no doubt delight US dealers and lobbyists.This new policy is a clear sign that the new administration prioritises protecting American livelihoods over other wider concerns. Conservatives have repeatedly criticized US import and other restrictions on artworks as an attack on American businesses and the struggling U.S. culture industry as well as a drain on federal resources. Trump, who has called warnings about cultural heritage destruction a 'hoax' invented by the Chinese, has accused his predecessors of waging a 'war on American art-lovers' and in announcing the new measures claims that he has made 'a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations', including some that threaten 'the future and livelihoods of our great art dealers'. The order will also chip away at other regulations, including scrapping language on the 'social cost' of art looting and smuggling.

A White House official is quoted as saying that the measures were consistent with the goal of cultural independence: 'We want to take our own course and do it in our own fashion'. Cultural property protection is 'an issue that deserves attention but I think the President’s been very clear he’s not going to pursue any cultural or environmental policies that put the US economy at risk', he said. 'It’s very simple'.  The official added: 'the United States is going to pursue its interests as it sees fit. I think the President’s been very clear about having an America-first cultural policy, and he wants to continue to remove any obstacles to that'. The official was pressed by reporters on how global cultural property issues should be tackled. He said: 'One, you’ve got to make sure you have a strong economy. You’ve got to make sure you have people who are actually working. To the extent that the economy is strong and growing and in prosperity, that’s the best way to protect the historical environment'.

Campaigning groups are scathing of the new President's approach to the historical environment, and unanimous in condemning this sudden policy turnaround. 'These actions are an assault on American values and they should be opposed by each and every citizen', one shocked environmental activist was quoted by Reuters as saying. The green group, Earthjustice, announced that it would challenge the order in and out of court. Tracy Citizen, speaking on behalf of the Archaeology Coalition said:
'This executive order gives us further proof that Trump isn’t a leader, he’s just an arts industry stooge with a presidential pen. Thankfully, for all his bluster, the best Trump can do is delay America’s inevitable transition to a clean antiquities market, but he can’t stop it. “The problem, of course, is how much devastation his administration will inflict on the cultural heritage, vulnerable communities and the environment in the meantime. With this executive order, the Trump administration is simply putting America further behind in the global race towards a culturally sustainable future'. 
Although I have in the past been a critic of the lack of commitment exhibited by the selectivity of the CCPIA, it has to be admitted that even in its atavistic form, it was better than nothing. Let us hope that when America's (and the State Department's) Trump nightmare is over, it will be replaced by something better and more suited to the role.

Update 2nd April 2017
That was of course this year's April Fool post, most of the text however was based on authentic material concerning the President's treatment of the Clean Air Act.

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