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ATG’s analysis shows that the sharpest declines came within the European Union – albeit for far smaller volumes than the rest of the world – with exports to the UK’s EU trading partners falling 28.5% to £123.7m, while imports were cut by 42.2% to £136.6m.

Exports to the United States, the UK’s chief international trading partner globally, were hit badly for the second year running: antiques saw a 25.7% decline to £186.1m, while pictures fell by 29.3% to £622.1m.

Imports of pictures from the US fared slightly better, down by 22.6% to £747.2m, while antiques imports from the US held up relatively well, falling only 3% to £110.3m.

With the worldwide recession beginning to bite hard as 2009 began, the almost universal decline in the movement of goods is hardly surprising. What was not clear until now was how much trade would be hit.

Switzerland, a non-EU country that acts as Europe’s chief entrepôt for art and antiques, saw a 65.5% decline in the value of antiques (to £24m) exported from the UK, while picture exports dropped to £406.6m, a fall of 24.8%. Imports from Switzerland saw antiques down £29.6m, a 26.4% fall, while pictures were down 20.6% at £454.6m.

There are two highly notable changes. The first is the huge level of pictures making their way from the UK to the Ukraine – £115.3m worth – putting it only third to the US and Switzerland as a UK trading partner in this category. This could simply be the result of vigorous acquisition programmes by one or two well-known Ukrainian collectors. The second is the appearance of Greece at the top of the table for EU trading partners, taking £55m in pictures from the UK.

Trade with Russia has not recovered – picture exports there are down by nearly 70%, and imports by 36.5%. However, the United Arab Emirates have begun to make their mark, as the table shows.

What would appear to be anomalies – perhaps created by single wealthy collectors – put the British Virgin Islands in fifth position (£10.1m) for pictures imported into the UK, while the US Virgin Islands come in eighth (£1.1m) for antiques imported to the UK.

China’s appearance in the top ten non-EU trading partners importing antiques from the UK (£5.3m) may be a reflection of the increasing importance of mainland Chinese buyers, although exports of antiques to Hong Kong still saw a 17.5% fall to £23.5m. Picture exports to Hong Kong held up reasonably well at £30.1m, a fall of only 1.9%.

Qatar has re-emerged as an important player, taking £18m in antiques from the UK.

As ATG always advise, the figures reflect the value of goods moved across UK borders rather than specifically traded, but significant trends are likely to indicate emerging strengths and weaknesses across the markets, and so they are vital to our understanding of the international art and antiques industry.

By Ivan Macquisten