End the Unilateral Trade Sanctions on Collectors
April 03, 2012
Coin collectors across the U.S. are tired of being singled out with unilateral sanctions. The State Department’s assault on our ability to collect coins is killing another American industry and leaving coin collectors in China and Europe to freely buy and sell. We’ve decided we aren’t going to take it anymore. Join us in ending Hillary Clinton’s (the State Department’s) assault on coin collecting. Below is the first call to arms for coin collectors across the U.S.:
The following op-ed was published today in The Huffington Post:
by Wayne G. Sayles
President Obama recently announced that he is going to get tough on
unfair trade restrictions. In his White House announcement earlier this
month, the President said China should not be allowed to "skirt the
rules" by placing restrictions on exports. "If China would simply let
the market work on its own, we'd have no objection," said Obama. The
President went on to say, "When it is necessary, I will take action if
our workers and our businesses are being subjected to unfair practices."
But China is increasingly gaining free rein over certain industries
because of the U.S.' aggressive regulatory stances. While government
agencies in Washington increase surcharges and restrictions for U.S.
consumers, their Chinese counterparts take advantage of the unilateral
sanctions. President Obama should take action by telling his own U.S.
State Department to stop its unilateral trade restrictions on American
coin collectors. An entire industry of small business collectors is
under assault and in danger of collapsing because these sanctions
unfairly target Americans alone.
U.S. coin collectors have had enough.
History has shown that unilateral regulations almost always have
unintended consequences, creating new problems without addressing the
underlying issues. Surprisingly, the restrictions that target this
industry are the work of a lone, unelected State Department bureaucrat.
In the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs,
the individual who unapologetically ignores bipartisan Congressional
opposition and scoffs at the concept of transparency is Maria Kouroupas.
She has ignored numerous appeals from elected officials and pushed
ahead with import restrictions that she claims are deterrents to looting
of the world's historic artifacts, but the reality is that the
restrictions drive these items into dangerous and volatile underground
markets in places like China and the Gulf States.
Looting has been a serious problem in the cradles of civilization for
years, but reached a new level of crisis during the Iraq War, when
items from thousands of years ago started disappearing at an alarming
rate. Former Congressmen Phil English and James Leach rightfully
introduced legislation to stop the importation of Iraqi goods without
proper documentation. The need for emergency action even reached the
White House, and the trade restrictions were put in place by executive
order. But as the years have passed and the crisis faded, it has been
subverted by Kouroupas to expand trade sanctions penalizing coin
Kouroupas' hardline view on cultural property is simple: all historic
items should be owned by the governments of the modern nations that sit
on the land that spawned ancient cultures. She penalizes U.S. citizens
by imposing overly aggressive trade sanctions on even the most common
cultural goods. Her restrictions are draconian, casting such a wide net
that even kids and seniors are caught up in the bureaucracy. It's now
illegal to import coins -- that were actual legal tender designed to
trade hands in high volume -- worth as little as one dollar unless it
can somehow be proved that they are not "illicit." And she shows no sign
of stopping with coins.
Kouroupas' restrictions only apply to Americans -- making the U.S.
the only country in the world with such import sanctions. Meanwhile,
citizens from China and Europe are free to buy and sell anything they
want. American collectors are forced to the sidelines, diminishing
their longstanding tradition of preserving, studying and displaying
historic coins. The best way for the U.S. to honor and protect cultural
goods is to enable American enthusiasts to lead by example, through
serving as guardians of history -- whether collected in museums or by
individuals. Demanding that all artifacts are state-owned is a
ridiculous over-reach. And one that Obama claims to be against.
The sanctions on coin collectors inadvertently support corrupt,
foreign officials who use restrictions on Americans to divert attention
from their own failures to police archaeological sites and adequately
fund preservation efforts. In China, international auction houses like
Sotheby's and Christie's are deliberately restrained from engaging in
the art and antiquities market by a constantly-shifting set of
regulations that favor Chinese interests. A group of retired officers
from the People's Liberation Army filled the void, building a
multi-billion dollar antiquity sales empire in less than a decade. In
fact, China recently surpassed the U.S. as the largest arts and
antiquities market in the world with a 30 percent share of the global
market. Meanwhile, Chinese auction houses are opening offices in New
York to capitalize on the restrictions that keep Americans out of other
There is little doubt that nations should retain the right to protect
their own cultural heritage, but there is no value in holding Americans
back from an already unfair playing field. Art, antiquity and coin
collectors in the U.S. adhere to the principle of responsible
stewardship for items of historic value. Many of the greatest treasures
in American museums are on loan from collectors who practice
stewardship to share cultural history with the public. Rather than
enlist and encourage collectors to do their part as stewards of the
past, Kouroupas denounces them as criminals.
Kouroupas, who has held her position for nearly 30 years, is openly
disdainful of Congressional oversight from politicians on both sides of
the aisle. She has avoided scrutiny for so long by conducting her work
behind closed doors, holding few open meetings and releasing virtually
no public documents. Her latest move is to expand the trade sanctions
to countries like Bulgaria.
It is time for President Obama and Hillary Clinton to stop Kouroupas.
Coin collectors from all over the U.S. have fought to open meaningful
dialogue on these issues for years, but it is clear that the State
Department is closed to the opinions and interests of the public,
businesses and Congress. Hasn't the nation's high unemployment rate and
down-turned economy taught politicians that penalizing American small
business owners only makes the economy worse? The White House claims to
be against penalizing U.S. workers and small businesses, but the State
Department is killing another U.S. industry for no good reason.