This Lalique orchid comb, with carved ivory petals and leaves in plique-à-jour enamel and diamonds, sold for €600,000/£510,000 (plus 26/21% buyer’s premium) at Sotheby’s in Paris on December 17. It was one of 38 pieces of René Lalique Art Nouveau assembled by aesthete Claude H Sorbac. From January 16, antiques containing ivory can be commercially exported from the EU only if sold to museums.

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Internal trade of pre-1947 worked objects will be allowed to continue within Europe but will now be subject to a certification process.

The new rules, titled Revised Guidance on the EU Regime Governing Ivory Trade, were formally adopted on December 16 and will come into effect on January 19, a year after the EC published a similar series of draft measures and invited responses.

The consultation period garnered around 90,000 responses.

Some of the EU changes are long overdue. Previously, for example, it had still been possible to sell raw elephant tusks in some member states – something that the guidance now recommends against. But others will be seen as detrimental to the antiques trade and the collecting community.

While intra-EU trade in pre- 1947 ‘worked’ ivory (plus musical instruments made prior to 1975) will be permitted, transactions must be accompanied by a certificate issued by the CITES management authorities of each member state.

This process will be subject to a one-year transition period, but trade associations already fear a backlog and delays, particularly as there are no plans to exempt antiques containing only a small percentage of ivory (the de minimis rule).

While the specifics on fees are not yet forthcoming, the cost of compliance is likely to make trade in low-value items uneconomic.

Ivory imports to, and re-export from, the EU will no longer be authorised except in a very few cases. Pre-1975 musical instruments can cross the border for ‘commercial purposes’ but antiques are subject to the narrowest exemption: when the item is sold to a museum and a relevant authority confirms its high cultural, artistic or historical importance.

Insufficient time

Anyone wishing to bring ivory works of art in or out of the EU must do so before the rules go ‘live’ – a narrow window that Erika Bocherau, the secretary general of art market federation CINOA, bel i eves is inadequate.

“Unfortunately, the final revisions were not made available before they were adopted so it has been difficult to prepare.

“For dealers, in particular, there are several problems with the timing. The short period, which includes the holidays, does not allow sufficient time for dealers to evaluate which items of stock incorporating antique ivory should be through EU customs – either in or out – by January 19.”

The impact on the British trade will ultimately be limited, if only because the passing of the Ivory Act 2018 will, when it is enacted, prevent the import and export of most ivory from the UK to EU anyway.

Nonetheless, as the exemptions proposed by the UK and EU regimes do not precisely overlap, there will be some extra consequences for the ‘closed border’ policy.

Even items that will be exempt from the ban in the UK – such as pre-1918 items of outstanding artistic, cultural or historic significance or portrait miniatures – would not be permitted to enter the EU unless they were being sold to a museum.

The British Antiques Dealers Association has previously described the EU recomm-endations as “hugely damaging”.

CINOA believes the rules are “disproportionate and not evidence-based”. In its submission to the Commission, it had argued for a de minimis exemption without which, it said, “there will be a larger than necessary increase in the workload of the member states’ management authorities and a long delay between the application and granting of the trade certificates”.

Musical instruments

It asked that the import and export of pre-1947 antique ivory be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and that the treatment of antique ivory and musical instruments should be aligned.

It questioned, for example, the rationale of a law that would permit the sale of a 1970s piano with ivory keys but prohibit the sale of an Art Deco silver entree dish with ivory finial or an 18th century portrait miniature painted on a thin slice of ivory.

Bocherau expressed her disappointment with the outcome. “The impact of the new restrictions will be felt by both the trade and private individuals. It is hard to digest that the EU’s new restrictions were approved even though legislators acknowledged that none of the EU member states have been identif ied as countries that are implicated in the illicit ivory trade and that the art trade will suffer.”