President Donald Trump
US President Donald Trump whose administration is proposing a 25% import duty on Chinese goods, including art and antiques. Image by Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons.

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Last year, after arguing a strong case, the art trade succeeded in having Chinese art removed from the US government’s tariff list. However, Chinese works of art – defined as “exceeding 100 years, paintings, drawings and sculpture” – are again on a new list of $300bn-plus of imports drawn up by US trade authorities. They would be subject to a 25% tariff, regardless of the port of origin.

Peter Tompa, a lawyer representing the commercial art market and cultural bodies, will attend a US International Trade Commission hearing in Washington, DC on June 17 to argue against taxing Chinese art imports.

Last year Tompa, acting on behalf of the Global Heritage Alliance, successfully argued that taxing Chinese art entering the US risked damaging the local art market while benefiting that in China.

Tompa is calling on the antiques trade “to get energised to oppose tariffs on art again. The chances are good we will prevail, but that will happen only if interested dealers and collectors take the time to comment.”

All Chinese-made products face being taxed in an escalating response to what the US considers to be backtracking by China’s president, Xi Jinping, on commitments in a trade deal between the two countries.

Tariff ‘Idiocy’

Michael Cohen, chairman of BADA, which also helped to defend the art market against the earlier tariff threat, described the renewed proposal in no uncertain terms as “idiocy”.

Christie’s, together with leading Chinese art dealers in the US and UK, as well as trade bodies including BADA, cooperated on the submission ahead of the August 2018 hearing.  

At that hearing, Tompa, from Washington, DC law firm Bailey & Ehrenberg, pointed out that imposing a tax on art works would “cause disproportionate harm to the small or medium-sized businesses of the US art trade, as well as museums and collectors”.

A tariff on Chinese art would discourage Americans from importing Chinese art from countries “including our allies in Europe and Japan”, Tompa testified.

Last week BADA said it would restate its original submission to the US trade authorities. 

The consultation process last year concluded tariffs on Chinese art imports "were unnecessary, because they would affect everyone except the Chinese, because they aren’t allowed to sell antiques", Cohen told ATG.

Escalating trade war

In 2018, the Trump administration began imposing tariffs on billions of dollars-worth of Chinese imports, claiming unfair trade practices by the world’s second-largest economy.

On May 10 this year, the tariff rate on $200bn-worth of Chinese products - including industrial and agricultural output - was raised from 25% from 10%.

The new list of imports facing taxation includes Chinese antiques “exceeding one hundred years”, paintings, drawings and sculpture.

The inclusion of art and antiques on the new list of Chinese-made products means that works exported to the US from any port in the world would be destined to be taxed, along with food, animal skins, technology, building materials, chemicals and other Chinese products.

Those keen to put their views on a US tax on imported Chinese art can do so online via atg.news/UStariff