As US-China trade war escalates, US President Donald Trump is stepping up the game to show his determination to end the trade imbalance. Yet, not all his tariffs plans are welcomed. After protests by art dealers and collectors, Trump administration has spared Chinese art and antiquities from the imposition of 25% import tariffs.
On 10 July, The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) published a proposed list of Chinese goods subject to 10% import tariffs, including Chinese works of art from Chinese paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics to antiques older than 100 years. The rate was to be increased to 25% in January next year.
The proposal provoked outrage among US-based art dealers, collectors and museums which have been protesting against Trump’s tariffs plan. USTR announced on 17 September an updated list which includes 5,745 of the 6,031 categories on the original list, removing all items of Chinese art and antiquities.
USTR has spared Chinese art and antiquities from the import tariffs
According to the USTR statement, they “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”.
The decision is widely welcomed by art market leaders as they considered the move to be harmful to US-based art and antiquities dealers and collectors. The revised list is also a relief to auction houses who had also expressed their strong opposition during the public hearing in August.
Sotheby’s, Christie’s and the Asia Week New York Association of Dealers said in a written complaint that “Imposing duties on Chinese-origin art will not impact the trade practices or policies of China since the vast majority of such artwork is imported into the United States from countries other than China.” They believed that the United States, not China, would be affected most. If the import tariffs were imposed, there would be an impact on Asia Week New York, a major annual event that celebrates and promotes Asian art in New York.
If the import tariffs were imposed, there would be an impact on Asia Week New York
Stuart Marchant, the owner of the prominent Chinese antiques store in London, said the proposed tariffs on Chinese art would have been “a lose-lose for America”. He said the move would shift the US market for Chinese works of art to Europe and other duty-free selling centres. US collectors and museums would have to buy abroad, weakening their purchasing power . “They are shooting themselves in the foot,” he commented on the purposed tariffs on Chinese art.
Marchant is a prominent Chinese antiques store in London
Peter Tompa, a lawyer specialising in cultural trade, argued that tariffs on Chinese art would only hurt American small business and it would further redirect Chinese art long outside the country back to Chinese auction houses with links to the Chinese government”.
Many believed that the US government overestimated the impact of imposed tariffs on Chinese art to the Chinese government. It seems that the move would have little effect on reversing the US trade imbalance with China, but rather encourage Chinese art returning to China. In that case, the proposed tariffs on Chinese art is what the Chinese government would wish to see.
The Chinese government protested the sale of a Western Zhou Chinese bronze vessel
In fact, the Chinese government has been actively seeking to bring back Chinese antiques to the country through various channels in recent years. For instance, the Chinese government vehemently protested a sale in April as the UK auction house was trying to sell a Western Zhou Chinese bronze vessel that is believed to be looted from Old Summer Palace in Beijing in the 19th Century.