Thursday, July 31, 2008

What Should an OPEC-style Antiquities Cartel Demand From Market Nations?

Derek Fincham has an interesting recent post here reflecting on the prospect that countries of origin for antiquities are likely to band together OPEC-style to negotiate as a bloc, rather than continuing the individual dealmaking that has so far been the case. Fincham assumes, perhaps rightly, however, that even as a bloc antiquities-rich nations are unlikely to play hardball in demanding restitution and/or more stringent import rules because of the need to maintain good relations and thereby encourage increased tourism that can provide revenues needed to bolster site protection.

Reliance on tourism, he points out,
carries with it the distasteful tradeoffs, such as the commodification of heritage, and the wear-and-tear which millions of visitors will always cause. Hopefully nations of origin will be able to move beyond the dramatic repatriations, which are a necessary step, and continue to work to preserve the sites themselves.
But it is difficult to see how countries of origin will be able to do more to preserve the sites themselves absent some concerted effort to demand that any deal involving repatriation and loan agreements also involve some mechanism for generating revenues for site protection from within the market states, not from tourism dollars. The most appropriate source for such revenues is the antiquities market. Imposing a tax on all sales of antiquities would require lawmaking, of course, and countries of origin may feel it would be easier to make a deal with individual museums and collectors than to pressure them to call on Congress to tax the antiquities market. Dealers are almost certain to oppose any such measure, as well. But a cartel is far more powerful than any individual country, and with the stick and carrot of repatriation and loans in hand countries of origin have at least a chance to succeed. Surely it is worth a try.

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