November 08, 2023

FTZ center playing key role in global exchange of cultural relics, artworks

In the world's largest bonded center for art at the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, issues like cultural relics going missing or being stolen are the last thing people should worry about.

The 68,000-square-meter Shanghai FTZART is as big as 10 football fields. Its security system, based on the latest high technologies, including infrared microwave detection and ultrasonic vibration alarm system, has reached the highest international standard, according to the center.

In fact, the Shanghai FTZART suggested that if someone uses an impact hammer to destroy the center's wall for an hour, the damage will only be as small as a bowl edge. And in case of accidents like fires or chemical leaks, the system will release fog to wrap all stored artworks as protection.

The center is an important part of the cultural sector in the FTZ and an intermediary for the global exchange of cultural relics and artworks. It is also a microcosm of the zone embracing culture, economy, trade and many other fields from around the world.

It has gained the trust of many international art organizations, such as auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's and exhibitions like Design Miami and Art021, as well as many private collectors.

For example, two volumes of the national treasure "Yongle Dadian" were returned to China after a Chinese private collector bought these at an auction in France and asked for FTZART's help in 2020.

This is the "largest encyclopedia in the world" lauded by the "Encyclopedia Britannica." It was commissioned by Emperor Yongle in 1403, and collected more than 7,000 kinds of ancient Chinese books and records, covering literature, art, history, geography, philosophy and religion from the pre-Qin period (pre-221BC) to the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Last year, under the platform's coordination, the ancient books finally returned to their homeland after 24 hours of transportation and were kept in the bonded center.

The Shanghai FTZART revealed that from 2013 to August this year, the total import and export value of cultural relics and artworks with the help of the FTZ was nearly 90 billion yuan (US$12.31 billion). The figure in 2021 was around 17.6 billion yuan, setting a new record for one year.

This year, the platform will continue to cooperate with the China International Import Expo on the cultural relics and art exhibition area and provide one-stop services for overseas exhibitors, including appraisal, trading, and copyrights, according to Tan Yi, Shanghai FTZART general manager.

She said that 19 offshore exhibitors will participate in the upcoming 6th CIIE in November and the exhibition area will reach an all-time high of nearly 3,000 square meters.

The total transaction amount of cultural relics and artworks during the CIIE in 2021 and 2022 was nearly 1.4 billion yuan.

To accelerate the circulation of exhibits and let more people appreciate art, the related approval process has been simplified.

At present, the Shanghai FTZ has the most convenient and efficient import and export process for cultural relics and artworks in China. The time for customs clearance has been shortened from more than 20 working days to five working days, Tan pointed out.

She said: "We will continue to develop the FTZART as the 'first stop' for international institutions and artworks to enter the Chinese market, and as the 'preferred medium' for Chinese culture to go global."

The FTZ also welcomes different product standards and diversified trade forms from all over the world.

For example, musical instruments from Quanzhou City, southwest China's Fujian Province, are being tested for export at the Shanghai branch of the China Quality Certification Center in the FTZ. As the 20th edition of Music China, Asia Pacific's largest sourcing venue for the music industry, will be held in Shanghai next month, many musical instruments will be sold abroad.

Gu Hongwei, an official of the branch, said that the products only need to pass one test at the center to get certifications from many countries. It reduces the time and money costs for enterprises to cope with various testing standards in different countries and regions.

Since 2018, the center has been setting up new international cooperation centers in Belt and Road countries every year, such as Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Japan. The move is aimed at enabling more and more countries to mutually recognize testing results and certifications.

The overseas centers also help enterprises from those countries to enter the Chinese market by providing technical services related to Chinese regulations and standards.

To attract more overseas firms to set up their regional headquarters in the FTZ and improve the business environment, a platform for offshore trading is expected to share more information with all national commercial banks soon, said Liang Xiang of the FTZ's bonded area administration.

Offshore trading in China refers to middlemen in China and importers and exporters in two different overseas countries. The goods are transported directly from producers to consumers.

The middleman doesn't need to be responsible for logistics but should do the settlement and payment of foreign exchange for the buyer and seller. It means that the local company only has financial transactions but no information about logistics and customs. This form of trade poses a challenge for domestic authorities like banks in reviewing its authenticity.

To solve the problem, in 2021, an online platform was established for sharing information, including business credit, overseas customs declaration and international cargo transportation. It is the first of its kind in China.

Nearly 100 enterprises and 55 banks have now joined the platform, and trade authenticity has been verified more than 5,000 times, Liang noted.

He revealed that the United States-based technology company Kingston transferred its offshore trading business to its branch in the Shanghai FTZ at the end of last year. In the following months, its trade volume has exceeded US$494 million.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Shanghai FTZ. The import and export volume of its bonded areas shows an annual growth rate of 5.5 percent on average, reaching 8,646.43 billion yuan in the past decade, which is 2.1 times the total number in the 22 years before 2013, Liang said.