When the new import licensing regulation for cultural goods (2019/880) comes into force in the EU on June 28, 2025, what goods will be affected from the world of art and antiques?

According to the law, relevant items – all of which must have originated from outside the EU – will be split into two types: those that need a full import licence, and those that can be brought in on the basis of an importer statement.

What those items are is set out in a series of three tables in the Annex to the legislation, Parts A, B and C.

Any attempt to import an item covered by Part A will be prohibited if it is deemed to have been exported illegally from its country of origin, whenever that was.

Items included under Part B are more than 250 years old and seen as being at greater risk of looting and trafficking than those covered by Part C, and so are subject to tighter rules – in other words these are the pieces that need an import licence rather than an importer statement, and no minimum value threshold applies. This means that unless customs tell the importer otherwise, a licence will be required for every individual item, even where they might be identical, low-priced pieces imported together in large groups.

It should be remembered that being issued with an import licence conveys no ownership rights or proof of the item being legitimately acquired.

Applicants for a licence will have to demonstrate that the item in question was exported from the country where it was created or discovered in accordance with the laws and regulations of that country at the time (whenever that was – and it could be centuries ago).

Essential licences and certificates

If that country issued export licences or certificates at the time, the applicant must provide the relevant original licence or certificate (even though there has never been any requirement to keep them once used). Otherwise, they must show that no such laws and regulations existed at the time.

Because many of these items will have left those countries decades or more beforehand, that proof may no longer survive, if it was ever there in the first place. So, the law provides a third way of qualifying for a licence: evidence that the item in question has been exported in accordance with the laws and regulations of the last country where it was located for an unbroken period of more than five years.

There are further conditions to this option. Assuming you can prove that the item has spent an unbroken period of more than five years in a single country, you must also show that it wasn’t there for temporary use, or was just there in transit, for re-export or transhipment. You must also show that it was exported from the country where it was created or discovered before 24 April 1972 – when the 1970 UNESCO Convention on trafficking of cultural goods first came into effect.

One cause for customs rejecting the application will be if it has “reasonable grounds” to believe that the item’s original export from the source country was illicit. But the regulation does not say what “reasonable grounds” means in this context.

Items covered by Part C needing an importer statement are all individually valued at €18,000 or more per item and are more than 200 years old.