Are Italy’s export laws about to change?

Interest groups are putting up a united front in the hopes of reform


The prestigious Biennale Internazionale di Antiquariato di Firenze (Florence’s antiques biennial) is the oldest event of its kind, so it’s a cruel irony that Italy’s antiques dealers, as well as Modern and contemporary gallerists, are finding themselves cut off from the international art market by legislation that they argue is stringent and dated.

On 2 October, a roundtable discussion will take place at the biennial to present a list of proposed amendments that gallerists and auction houses hope will revive Italy’s art market, which, according to the 2014 Tefaf report, registered 0% growth and only 1% of global market share.

The proposals include the application of a monetary threshold to works that require export licences (allowing less expensive works to be traded more freely on the open market) and the review of the 50-year term for heritage protection. Currently, any work created more than 50 years ago by a dead artist requires an export licence to be sold within the European Union, regardless of its market price. EU law requires a monetary threshold, which, for example, France and the UK both implement. Extending the 50-year term to 100 years is also a crucial part of the proposals.

In Italy, the lack of a threshold creates an unnecessary bureaucratic backlog of applications, which, combined with the unclear rules that Italy’s regional authorities and export offices interpret differently and on a case-by-case basis, creates too much buyer uncertainty. Foreign buyers steer clear of Italian sellers for fear of seeing their purchases seized by the government.

Quicker and more efficient procedures for issuing export licences, along with clearer guidelines for the export offices, are also high on the list of proposals.

“It’s the first time that all the stakeholders have come together despite their differences,” says Giuseppe Calabi, senior partner at Milan’s CBM & Partners, and the spokesman for the group, which includes representatives from Italy’s association of antiques dealers, the association of modern and contemporary galleries, Italian auction houses such as Bolaffi, Minerva, Il Ponte and Finarte, and international players such as Artcurial, Christie’s and Sotheby’s.

“We have already met with officials from the ministry of culture, who reacted well to our proposals, especially with regards to the implementation of a monetary threshold. Our reasonable aim is for [Dario] Franceschini [the minister of culture] to push these reforms through,” Calabi says.

The stakes are high for Italy’s fledgling art trade. “We forget that it’s not just about the art market,” says Leonardo Piccinini, who collaborates with Milan’s art historical Amici di Brera association and is chairing the discussion in Florence. “This connects to museums, restorers, insurers and transporters. We risk losing a market that will never recover.”