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What does the US-China trade war mean for the art world?

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The trade war between the US and China has sparked concern across the globe, with tensions rising after Donald Trump announced last month that a 10% tariff would be imposed on $200 billion  worth of Chinese goods starting 24 September.

Image: Antique Chinese porcelain, by Thomas Quine

The 205-page list of items affected included several art pieces: paintings, drawings and pastels ‘executed entirely by hand’, original sculptures, and antiques over 100 years old. The tariff would also apply to all art pieces produced in China, even if they were being sold from within another country.

The proposed tariffs were met with consternation from many corners, with dozens of companies raising their concern during public hearings in Washington in the wake of the announcement. Sotheby’s, the Asia Week New York association of dealers, and British auction house Christie’s were among those to complain.

However, US-based dealers can now breathe a sigh of relief, as a new list of affected goods issued this week by the Office of the United States Trade Representative no longer includes art and antiquities.

The agency said of removing these goods that it “engaged in a thorough process to rigorously examine the comments and testimony and, as a result, determined to fully or partially remove 297 tariff lines from the original proposed list.”

This is good news for the substantial market for Chinese art in the US. Imports of paintings, drawings, pastels and other artworks from China to the US totalled $114.5 million in 2017, according to the US International Trade Commission.

British auction houses will also be relieved, as any Chinese goods sold from Britain to the US stood to be affected by the tax. Christie’s is among those most affected, having sold almost $40 million worth of Chinese art in the US during New York’s Asia Week alone this year.

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