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International trade in fine art

International trade in fine art

The international trade of fine art is most precisely defined by the trade of nations of unique, non-reproducible works by an artist. The art trade contradicts is a culturally significant good. It is not treated by consumers that it is unique to each other. Despite existing as a finite physical piece, unique art is still considered intellectual property. This clause may be used in the context of national and international commercialization, or liberalized for the sake of a healthier international market.

Decorative art as a trade

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. [1]These works are non-functional, emotional, social, political, traditional, and cultural statements, and are not greatly affected by commercial-sector constraints. [1] 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 . [1]

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. [4] The harmonized 4-digit harmonized product description and coding system, which is known as “Paintings, Drawings and Pastels, Executed Entirely By Hand”. [3]

History of international art trade

The Earliest Known Pope Pius II Pope Pius II . [4] It was not until the mid-1500s that any sizable amount of formalization was transferred between nations in the markets. Previously, local demand had the supply of artwork, but it could not keep up the number of artists. [5] Consequently, artists exported their works to foreign markets. Between 1540 and 1670, an average of 144 paintings per year were transported between the Netherlands and New Spain . [5]

Throughout much of the early modern period , if an artist could not domestically sell his art, he sold it instead. Starting in the 17th Century, however, most art was traded at the massive auction houses of Christie and Sotheby’s of London, which both still survive today. [5]

Like any other traded good, For example, in the more enlightened years of the 19th Century, art escaped high tariffs in America because of the government viewed art as an important cultural good. At other times, though, is more important than free intellectual property. [6]

Highlights of Official Treatments of Imported Paintings and Sculpture in the USA, 1789-1865 [6]
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 have been made to “defray expenses in relation to the Barbary States”.
1812 30 Duties were more than doubled to finance 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 requests made 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 the needs of an empty Treasury. Arts and crafts 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.

During World War II , Neutral Switzerland became the primary trafficker of art on the European continent. Most “degenerate” works of art that the Nazi government has been selling, where they have mostly entered black markets . Since the war ended, there has been a massive, ongoing effort to recover all of these works. For fifteen years following the war, 45,000 rooms were returned to France, mostly to Jewish owners. [7]

Today, almost every country in the world has restrictions and regulations on the export of cultural property. [4] Currently, most art auctions are facilitated on online sites such as eBay and Lauritz.com . [5]

Economic theory of art trade

The art market is one of the largest markets in the world – the “secondary market” – rather than the “primary market” between the producer and the consumer. [2] For example, when a sculpture is a sculpture of a private collector, the exchange is between two consumers and a transaction in the secondary market of either produced sculpture. It is more complicated for economists, then, to capture these transactions in their data. [2]

Comparative advantage is also more difficult to pinpoint in the case of cultural goods. There is a certain degree of cultural nationalism of art, [8] making some nations reluctant to share with their cultural property. In addition, it is not possible to calculate the cost of producing a unit of art. [2]

If they have different endowments or different preferences. But this model is not very useful because of retentive nationalism: [9] a country that is relatively less endowed with art-producing resources. [2]

Determination of prices

Traditional trade theory treats art as a homogenous, non-differentiated good, which is where it is reliably predictable. [2] Unique art is valued precisely because of its uniqueness. Since each piece of art is different, and because each piece does not appear on the market very often, the determination of changes in market value is difficult to determine. [2]

Economists use the hedonic regression (HR) estimation method to calculate prices in art. This article is based on a number of dimensions, the artist, and the subject matter. [10]

Protectionism vs. Liberalization

Protectionism is a nationalistic viewpoint which is considered to be necessary to assert national sovereignty and identity. [11] Countries with small domestic markets are often overwhelmed by their ability to produce their products. America is the largest exporter of artwork in the world, and English speaking countries are especially vulnerable to American imports. [3] Protectionists view this as a modern form of American imperialism , which reduces cultural diversity when national industries are unable to compete. [11]

Protectionism is less concerned with direct economic interest as it is with preserving cultural integrity. Australian economist David Throsby argues that investment in “cultural capital” may be necessary for the sustainability of a culture. [12] Paul M. Bator , Who Helped negotiate and draft the UNESCO Convention on the International Trade of Art, Argues That larger countries are responsible for the cultural interests of smaller ones. He explains in the International Trade in Art that “art-rich countries should create a tax and other financial incentive to persuade those with important antiquities and archaeological objects to keep them at home”. [4]

Proponents of liberalization in international art markets and their contribution to efficient production and distribution of cultural products. [11] Reliance on competitive market forces also frees creative individuals from the hindrance of government oversight. [11] Many special characteristics of cultural products – the lack of rivalry in content, economies of scale , and agglomeration economies – enhance the case for opening markets. Protection raises rather than lowers domestic prices, which detracts from consumer welfare. [11]

The ” commodification objection” is the reluctance to classify an important cultural commodity as a simple trade commodity, and is frequently cited by cultural protectionists. [9] Those who advocate openness believe that free-market nations can provide the most effective political force for the development of an active market. This argument diametrically opposes Bator’s: free-trade advocates contend that larger countries are better suited to help smaller nations finance their participation in international trade. [11]

The issue of the illicit art trade also factors into the debate. In terms of value, the illegal trafficking of art ranks in black market activities second only to narcotics. [13] More problematic than the future of the work is that of subsequent transport, which proves difficult to prosecute since most paintings are easily concealable. By maintaining an open market, liberalists argue that much of the illicit trade of art can be eliminated. [9]

Largest countries by total trade in art

SITC code 8960. The SITC classification includes works such as SITC code 8960. The SITC classification includes works such as as antique, stamps, and sculpture that are not captured in the HS definition. [3]

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 782230445
la France 562109395
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
la France 959773572
germany 860247165
Other Reporters 2,332,793,409
Total Export 16,974,995,488

Largest exporters and importers of art to the USA

The United States both imports and exports the greatest value of art. The following tables use data from HS code 9701 code to rank the USA’s biggest trading partners in art. [14]

US Imports for 2010
Country In 1,000 Dollars
switzerland 1506184
United Kingdom 1352289
la 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 4501332
All Other 259.030
Total 4760362
US Exports for 2010
Country In 1,000 Dollars
la France 1543510
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 3965309
All Other 213.808
Total 4179117

See also

  • Antiquities trade
  • Black market
  • Fine Art Trade Guild


  1. ^ Jump up to:c World Intellectual Property Organization. (2003). “Marketing Crafts and Visual Arts: The Role of Intellectual Property”. International Trade Center UNCTAD / WTO.
  2. ^ Jump up to:g Schulze Gunther. (1999). “International Trade in Art” . Journal of Cultural Economics .
  3. ^ Jump up to:c UN Comrade Data: United Nations Statistics Division, http://comtrade.un.org/
  4. ^ Jump up to:c Bator, Paul. (nineteen eighty one). The International Trade in Art . University of Chicago Press.
  5. ^ Jump up to:d de Marchi, Neil, & Miegroet Hans. (2006). “The History of Art Markets”. Duke University. Ginsburgh, Victor. (2006). Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture .
  6. ^ Jump up to:b Barber, William J. “International Trade in the Fine Arts and American Political Economy 1789-1913”. From Marchi, Neil, & Craufurd, DW Goodwin. (1999). Economic Engagements with Art . Duke University Press.
  7. Jump up^ Nicholas, Lynn. (1998). “The Rape of European Art”. American University of International Law Review.
  8. Jump up^ Mas-Colell, Andreu. (1999). Should Cultural Goods Be Treated Differently? Journal of Cultural Economics.
  9. ^ Jump up to:c Merryman, John. (1995). “A Licit International Trade in Cultural Objects” . International Journal of Cultural Property .
  10. Jump up^ Ginsburgh, Victor. (2006). “The Computation of Prices Indices”. Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture. Free University of Brussels.
  11. ^ Jump up to:f Acheson, Keith & Maule, Christopher. (2006) “Culture in International Trade”. Ginsburgh, Victor. (2006). Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture.
  12. Jump up^ Throsby, David. (1999). “Cultural Capital”. Journal of Cultural Economics.
  13. Jump up^ Olivier, Monique. (1996). “The UNIDROIT Convention: Attempting to Regulate the International Trade and Traffic of Cultural Property”. Golden Gate University Law Review.
  14. Jump up^ Data compiled from the US Department of Commerce and the US International Trade Commission. http://dataweb.usitc.gov/