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Historic State Visit Advances US-India Fight Against the Illicit Antiquities Trade

June 30, 2023

President Biden and Prime Minister Modi Commit to Cultural Property Agreement in Joint White House Statement

Last week’s state visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeatedly highlighted the growing importance of cultural property protection, and specifically combating the illicit antiquities trade, to the India-U.S. bilateral relationship. 

During the four-day tour to Washington, D.C.—which included a high-profile welcome ceremony, state dinner, and congressional address—the Prime Minister and President Joe Biden pledged to strengthen their already close partnership on this issue. Their top priority is finalizing a Cultural Property Agreement (CPA), which would close American markets to looted, stolen, and illegally exported art and artifacts from India. This commitment was enshrined in the Joint Statement between both leaders, issued at the White House on June 22, alongside key defense, trade, and technology goals. 

As an organization dedicated to fighting the illicit trade in ancient art and artifacts, the Antiquities Coalition had a front row seat to this important announcement. Tess Davis, Executive Director of the Antiquities Coalition, attended the White House Welcome Ceremony on June 22, as well as the State Luncheon held on June 23, where she represented the organization among a distinguished and global group of politicians, diplomats, and members of the private sector. 

In addition to the joint statement, PM Modi announced that the United States would return over 100 antiquities to India in his goodbye address:  “I am happy that the American government has decided to return more than 100 Indian antiquities that had been stolen from us. These antiquities may have gotten to the international market in different ways – some legal, some illegal. I express my gratitude to the American government for returning these items.”

The Antiquities Coalition welcomes these strong steps from global leaders, which signify that cultural heritage protection and lawful exchange is a priority for both governments. Moreover, the AC emphasizes that CPAs between the United States and foreign governments are important tools to combat cultural racketeering. Under U.S. and international law, the United States can join these agreements to prevent looted and stolen antiquities and artifacts from entering the American art market, fighting the illicit trade while allowing the legal trade to continue and even thrive. They also aim to lessen global demand for illicit objects—especially since the U.S. makes up some 45% of the global art market—while increasing responsible cultural exchange.  

Read the full statement here

Learn more about Cultural Property Agreements here.