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Setting out his stall for the future, Mr Browne said that the biggest challenge facing BAMF was to encourage countries across Europe with significant art markets to set up similar organisations.

A coalition of such organisations is “the only way we will get serious change across Europe”, he told the Antiques Trade Gazette.

Tackling damaging European Union legislation is the key to future prosperity of the European art trade, said Mr Browne, an argument that is increasingly holding sway with major players across the market. Evidence of this can already be seen in the growing co-operation between BAMF and the French dealer association, the Syndicat National des Antiquaires. Whether the change in the French government to a more Eurosceptic administration will help further remains to be seen, but Syndicat president Christian Deydier is known to be close to President Chirac. Mr Browne also reported positive feedback from the trade in Germany and Holland.

BAMF has lost two of its founding fathers to retirement in the past couple of years, but treasurer Malcolm Hord has been followed by his successor as chief executive of LAPADA, John Newgas, and secretary Neil Smith has passed on his mantle to the man who took over from him as secretary of the Society of London Art Dealers, Christopher Battiscombe, so they are up to full strength. They also have the continuity of Peter Brooke as president, Mark Dodgson of the British Antique Dealers Association as secretary for their plenary meetings, as well as, of course, Mr Browne himself.

While BAMF spent much of their first five years focusing their attentions on the controversial art resale tax, droit de suite, that debate is largely over, with some significant concessions granted to the UK as a result. “Six years in, the droit de suite outcome alone justifies the setting up of the Federation,” Anthony Browne says.

Now BAMF are setting their sights on protecting the interests of small business by negotiating simpler rules on the movement of art across national borders with the Treasury and Customs and Excise – both of whom are reported to be dealing with the issue positively – as well as trying to revive interest in a practical national database of stolen art. The latter enjoyed the support of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, the Government’s own panel of experts and former Arts Minister Alan Howarth, but progress on the project was curtailed after Scotland Yard had to divert all its energies and spending into fighting terrorism after the September 11 attacks.

“Signing up to the UNESCO convention on stolen art was something we supported, but in many ways it is the soft option,” explained Mr Browne. “UNESCO gives the market the obligation to do something about stolen art, but now we need the tools to do the job. A workable database, free at the point of consultation, would be a huge step forward. The danger is that we end up with phenomenally complex measures for simple problems.”

Such difficulties could prove a further threat to those small businesses Mr Browne is so keen to protect. The droit de suite debate may be settled for the moment, but it could be revived if the European Commission fails in its stated aim to persuade the US and Switzerland to come on board by amending the Berne Convention, making the introduction of the tax compulsory, not voluntary.

To force it on European countries under such circumstances would be damaging and go against EU interests, Mr Browne argues.

With similar organisations to BAMF across Europe, it will be far easier to make the Commission listen to their arguments, he believes. And then there is always the matter of VAT...