As homegrown efforts to counter the illicit trade in cultural property progress though the UK Parliament, the European Commission has begun consulting on a proposed EU import licence system to tackle the problem.

The Consultation on Rules on the Import of Cultural Goods opened on 28 October 2016 and is part of EU efforts to “protect cultural heritage, fight illicit trafficking, prevent terrorist factions from acquiring income through cultural goods sales and promote legal trade in cultural goods in the EU and worldwide.”

Measures proposed under the consultation range from a strict licensing system to performing post-clearance audits and gathering information on cultural goods entering the EU. Under the licensing system, dealers and auctioneers would need to obtain a licence before importing antiquities into the EU.

The British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) has criticised the European Commission proposal for offering “no meaningful evidence about the precise problem that needs to be solved”. BADA Secretary General, Mark Dodgson, told the Antiques Trade Gazette that the consultation provided no indication of the frequency of the trade in illegal imports into the EU.

Dodgson is especially concerned by the potentially sweeping nature of the licence system. While it appears to target the trade in antiquities, he said the licence requirements could potentially apply to “all cultural objects including paintings, jewellery and furniture”. These concerns were echoed by Vincent Geerling, dealer and chairman of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art. Geerling called on the European Commission to tighten its definition of “cultural property” to ensure legitimate trade was not affected by the proposals.

Other art market leaders who have joined the chorus of disapproval include Christopher Battiscombe, director general of the Society of London Art Dealers. Battiscombe fears the proposed licensing system would “risk doing serious damage to the whole of the EU art trade”.

Interested parties can contribute their views on the proposals until the period of consultation ends on 23 January 2017.