Christie’s Says Shanghai Free Zone to Make Art Import Easier

Christie’s International, which this week holds its first mainland China auction, said Shanghai’s free-trade zone will allow it to import more works of art for sale into the country.

“We are working with the free-trade zone in any way they see fit and we are hopeful that when the free trade zone becomes more open we are there to benefit from that,” Steven Murphy, chief executive officer for the auction house told reporters in Shanghai today.

China’s State Council said July 3 it approved a pilot program to set up the country’s first free-trade zone in Shanghai. Sales of art and antiques in China raised 10.6 billion euros ($14.3 billion) in 2012, making it the world’s second-biggest market, according to a report published in March by the European Fine Art Foundation.

“With the presence of the free trade zone, it will be very much easier now for us to import works of art for sale in Shanghai,” Francois Curiel, president of Christie’s Asia said today. “The difference at the moment is no other than the fact that there are high importation taxes in China and not in Hong Kong, which is a free port.”

The government is studying deregulation to allow foreign auction companies to conduct auctions of cultural relics in the free-trade zone, according to a draft plan seen by Bloomberg News. The nation will suspend some laws on foreign companies in the free trade zone starting Oct. 1, the commerce ministry said. No official announcement on the opening of the Shanghai zone has been made.

“We are happy to operate here without the freedom to sell those cultural relics,” said Murphy. “The fact that it is not open now is not preventing us from moving ahead, because there is a great deal of art to sell and people to be in touch with.”

Works by Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol will go on sale on Sept. 26 in the first mainland China auction by an international house.

The auction house said on April 9 it was granted a license to operate independently in China, making it the first international auction house to hold its own branded events on the mainland.

The family of French billionaire Francois Pinault, who owns the auction house, in April donated to the country two Chinese bronze animal heads that were the subject of a $40 million disputed sale at Christie’s in 2009.

— With assistance by Liza Lin

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