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The UK remains a net exporter of art and antiques, but last year’s figures show a reversal of the trend in 1999 and 2000 when the gap between imports and exports was seen to be widening fast. The level of imports is often taken to be an indicator of the health of London as an art market centre, suggesting that more goods are flowing into the capital for resale at auction houses and in dealers’ galleries.

Overall the level of activity for antiques appeared to drop slightly, with both exports and imports down in value. The value of exported fine art remained steady, but imports were up by 21 per cent at £1388m, the highest ever figure for trade with countries outside the EU.

In spite of the dampening effects of the destruction of the World Trade Center, the USA remains overwhelmingly our most important trade partner, followed in all categories by Switzerland. But the figures also hint at the emergence of new markets, particularly in the former communist regimes.

The recorded trade with Russia rose from almost negligible levels to prominence in both the import and export lists.

The value of pictures from Russia rose to £40m, putting them above Japan on the import list. Exports of antiques and pictures to Russia also rose dramatically.

On a more modest level, China now features regularly in the figures and pictures to a value of £1.9m were exported there in 2001.

While potential economic giants like Russia and China could reasonably be expected to remain major forces in the art trade in the future, smaller countries are probably making a more fleeting appearance in the top 10. One major deal involving a single piece or collection can distort the statistics and it is reasonable to assume that the export trade to the Dominican Republic and Malta will not be sustained at this level.

Japan remains a net importer of art and antiques from the UK, but there was a sharp rise in the value of both antiques and fine art entering the country from Japan during the last year.