Sotheby's New York
Sotheby’s believes US tariffs on Chinese works of art will damage the American art market without having a material effect on China itself. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

As part of an ongoing trade war with China, certain Chinese goods including art are now taxed at 15% on entry to the US, regardless of the port of origin.

Following Christie’s setting out its stance in October where it became the first art market firm to seek exclusions from the tax, Sotheby’s has now added its name to the list of organisations requesting that tariffs be lifted across seven categories:

  • Paintings, drawings, pastels by hand
  • Hand-made decorative articles
  • Engravings, prints, lithographs
  • Original sculptures, statuary
  • Antique silverware, age over 100 years
  • Antique furniture, age over 100 years
  • Antique art, age over 100 years

In its submission, Sotheby’s states that the tariffs create “a material disincentive for anyone selling or buying such items in the United States”.

It added: “Given the global and fluid nature of the international art market, there is every reason to expect that the business of selling and buying Chinese-origin antique art will be diverted elsewhere.”

Claiming that the current tariffs policy undermines 120 years of free importation that has “allowed American institutions, museums, and private collections to flourish, making the US the world’s largest art market”, it points out that such tariffs are not effective in either eliminating certain Chinese practices or increasing demand for American-made antique art.

Among the dealers voicing a public response in support of the submission, Amy Weber of Santa Fe-based gallery TAI Modern said: “If the intention of the tariff is to have a negative effect on the Chinese economy, it will achieve the opposite outcome since the tariffs will only help China to consolidate its control over the international trade in Chinese antiques.”

The requests by the world’s two largest auction houses will now be subject to a four-stage review process. However all eyes will be on the text of the ‘phase one’ trade deal that is expected to be released in the next fortnight following progress in discussions between the US and China in talks over recent months.

It remains possible that the tariffs will be lifted ahead of the review of the submissions.

Among the firms that have succeeded in receiving an exemption is technology giant Apple for importing parts of its mobile phones and other products.