Importing works of art in the US has almost always been duty
free. However, Chinese art may soon be subject to a new 25% tariff due to
rising tensions in the US-Chinese trade war. This is the statement released by the head of
the Trade Representative on Section 301 Action: “Earlier today, at the direction of the President, the United
States increased the level of tariffs from 10 percent to 25 percent on approximately
$200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The President also ordered us to
begin the process of raising tariffs on essentially all remaining imports from
China, which are valued at approximately $300 billion.”
not clear from the representative’s statement whether paintings, sculptures and
art pieces in general will be subject to a new 25% tariff. At this time art
pieces and artifacts are not included in the revised tariff list but constituents
are scheduled to discuss this matter further.
Among the various issues to consider: whether Chinese
artifacts, including those imported from other countries, are covered by the new tariffs (what about a
work of art that remained in Europe for the last 200 years?); how the distinction
between artifacts and/or works of art with intrinsic historical and cultural importance
and industrial/artisanal will be determined (who will judge the historical
value at the border?); whether works by contemporary Chinese artists should be
subject to the same tariff (what about a contemporary painting?); and whether
installation or performance art by Chinese artists will be subject to the new
tariffs; in which way a tariff can
protect the US market for goods that are not fungible?
Duties, in turn, will be passed to American buyers by adding them to the final price of Chinese art and antiquities – certainly a significant concern for art collectors, art dealers, and cultural institutions. However, current owners of Chinese art may see the value of their works increase, as an artificial shortage could raise prices and encourage investment in rare Chinese goods.
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