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  • International trade in fine art

    International trade in fine art


    • The international trade of fine art is most precisely defined as the trade across nations of unique, non-reproducible works by an artist. The art trade contradicts typical international trade models since it is a culturally significant good. It is not treated by consumers the same way any other commodity would because of the aesthetic value that is unique to each piece. Despite existing as a finite physical piece, unique art is still considered intellectual property. This sparks the debate as to whether art exports should be restricted for nationalistic and cultural reasons, or liberalized for the sake of a healthier international market.

      The trade commodities included in the definition of “visual art” include the following: painting, drawing, sculpture in various materials, printmaking, photography, maps, performance art, installation art, mail art, assemblage art, textile arts, fashion design, video art, digital art, and product design. These works are non-functional, emotional, social, political, traditional, and cultural statements, and in comparison to other goods, are not greatly affected by commercial-sector constraints. Though visual art is a physical, hand-made good, it is often culturally rooted and created for aesthetic appeal. Therefore, art is considered intellectual property.

      The 4-digit Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) classifies “Works of Art, Collectors Pieces and Antiques” under category 8960, which includes paintings, drawings, pastels, original sculptures, original prints, stamps, and antiques over 100 years old. This is the only SITC category that consists of unique, non-reproducible art, which is typically thought of as “fine” art. The 4-digit harmonized commodity description and coding system, otherwise known as the harmonized system (HS) code for “fine” art is 9701, which is classified as "Paintings, Drawings and Pastels, Executed Entirely By Hand."


      Highlights of Official Treatments of Imported Paintings and Sculpture in the USA, 1789-1865
      Year Duty (%) Context of change, exemptions
      1789 5
      1790 10 A general increase in duties was prompted by revenue requirements
      1800 12.5 Upward revisions were made to “defray expenses in relation to the Barbary States.”
      1812 30 Duties were more than doubled to finance the war with Britain
      1816 15 Imports of “any society incorporated for philosophical or literary purposes or for the encouragement of the fine arts” were placed on the free list.
      1824 15 Protectionist pressures generated advances in duties, overall, but duties on imported art were not changed.
      1832 0 Tariff Act of 1832: All paintings and sculpture were placed on the free list.
      1841–1842 20 Overall increase in rates was driven by needs of an empty Treasury. Though art duties were re-imposed, the “productions of American artists residing abroad” were added to the free list, along with imports of nonprofit cultural institutions.
      1846 0 All paintings entered free when imported as an object of taste and not of merchandise.
      1861 10 The requirements of the Civil War finance elevated overall rates.
      Top World Importers in 2010
      Country Trade Value
      United States 6,201,785,637
      United Kingdom 4,214,309,059
      Switzerland 1,656,723,908
      China, Hong Kong SAR 782,230,445
      France 562,109,395
      Other Reporters 2,881,571,576
      Total Import 16,298,730,020
      Top World Exporters in 2010
      Country Trade Value
      United States 6,344,171,701
      United Kingdom 5,178,104,954
      Switzerland 1,229,904,687
      France 959,773,572
      Germany 860,247,165
      Other Reporters 2,332,793,409
      Total Export 16,974,995,488
      US Imports for 2010
      Country In 1,000 Dollars
      Switzerland 1,506,184
      United Kingdom 1,352,289
      France 464,676
      Germany 169,477
      Hong Kong 156,220
      Korea 137,229
      Belgium 119,128
      Netherlands 92,760
      Italy 91,026
      Japan 90,403
      Singapore 88,400
      Luxembourg 84,147
      Canada 67,124
      Austria 42,508
      Spain 39,760
      Subtotal 4,501,332
      All Other 259,030
      Total 4,760,362
      US Exports for 2010
      Country In 1,000 Dollars
      France 1,543,510
      United Kingdom 705,964
      Italy 416,948
      Germany 326,409
      Spain 183,255
      Netherlands 171,125
      Switzerland 164,926
      Belgium 133,960
      China 67,193
      Austria 63,497
      Norway 46,164
      Japan 43,445
      Mexico 42,433
      Canada 30,494
      Hong Kong 26,086
      Subtotal 3,965,309
      All Other 213,808
      Total 4,179,117

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