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A (very) small step towards a liberalisation of Italian export controls

Traditionally considered among the strictest in Europe, Italian export regulations have just been amended following an almost three-year debate. The discussion on the reasons for the stagnation of the art market in Italy was originally promoted by Progetto Apollo, an association of art dealers, auction houses and other professionals operating in the art market. The legal advisor of the group, Italian art lawyer Giuseppe Calabi, has commented positively on the recent amendments by saying that the reform has established a reasonable balance between heritage protection and private ownership and that hopefully other steps towards a greater liberalisation of the Italian art market will follow.

So far, the changes implemented in August mainly affect the bureaucratic export licensing process.

The reform has introduced a new minimum value threshold allowing the export of artworks up to a value of €13,500, through a simple self-certification procedure.

More importantly, the new regulations provide for an extension of the age threshold from 50 years to 70 years.  If the artwork was created less than 70 years ago, a self-declaration will suffice to export it from Italy without a licence. This means that artworks from the 1950s and 1960s (such as those created by Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani, Piero Manzoni, Enrico Baj, Agostino Bonalumi and Fausto Melotti) will now become more attractive for UK and other international auction houses and art dealers. Artworks by deceased artists made more than 70 years ago continue to require an export licence.

There are more changes ahead: the Italian Government aims to introduce five-year ‘passports’, to facilitate the movement of artworks in and out of Italian borders.

Another development is the preparation of new guidelines setting out more transparent and consistent criteria for the acceptance or denial of export licences. This initiative, promoted by the Cultural Heritage Ministry, aims at limiting the discretion of government officials in charge of deciding whether to issue an export licence for individual artworks.

Despite these modest improvements, hopefully the new measures will have a positive effect on the Italian art market which now represents only 1.5% of the global art trade (according to Tefaf Art Market Report 2017).

Francesca Barra

Published 27 September 2017