As a Tax Exemption Expires, the Art Trade Is Slammed With a New Tariff on Chinese Artworks Imported to the US

Many US dealers hope the tax won't be here to stay

President Donald Trump. Photo by Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images.

Art dealers and auction houses are up in arms over a new tax on Chinese art entering the US. Starting September 1, a temporary exclusion for most categories of Chinese art expired—the remaining exception is for paintings—and now sculpture, engravings, prints, collages, and antiques are subject to a 7.5 percent tax upon import to the US.

The tariff “certainly puts the US trade at a disadvantage and undermines the ability of auctioneers to attract consignments to New York,” said art dealer James Lally.

“Imposing tariffs on Chinese art is yet another blow to a US art market already crippled” by the shutdown, said Kate Fitz Gibbon, executive director of the Committee for Cultural Policy. The latest obligations “disproportionately harm small businesses. Additional long-term harm will be to collectors, museums, and to the public, which benefit both by the expertise and passion that collectors and specialist dealers bring to the Chinese art field, and through the art donations made by collectors to U.S. museums.”

Fortunately for market players looking forward to New York’s Asia Week events at the end of the month, the tariff doesn’t impact property already consigned to the auction houses’ upcoming sales. But continuing tariffs could impact consignments for 2021, a representative for Christie’s said, adding that “Christie’s intends to continue monitoring this issue alongside industry partners in the event that exemption opportunities are renewed.”

Chinese Blue and White Lotus-mouth Bottle Vase, courtesy of Skinner Auctions.

Chinese blue and white lotus-mouth bottle vase. Courtesy of Skinner Auctions.

Some remain hopeful that the Office of the US Trade Representative will grant another exclusion. There is “a good chance” of that, said Peter Tompa, executive director of the advocacy group Global Heritage Alliance, and “even a better chance the larger issues will be solved after the election.”

The conventional wisdom,” Tompa added,” “is that a Biden administration would be quicker to want a dea.”

But, as of now, Lally said the issue is “not a high priority for anyone in Washington DC, and therefore no quick remedy is likely.”

Antiques Trade Gazette reported that auction houses and dealers had fought the planned tariff last year and won the aforementioned temporary reprieve.

Sotheby’s catalogues will now include a symbol next to impacted lots directing readers to a new clause in the terms and conditions. It specifies that the tax will be charged against the value of the lot as declared on its entry into the US, not on the actual sale price.

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