Hong Kong will overtake London this year as the world's second-largest fine wine auction market after New York, with total sales estimated at about US$50 million, according to major auction houses. The apparent meteoric rise of Hong Kong up the ranks of global wine auctions comes just a year after the government scrapped import duties on wine, helping to generate sales of about US$27 million last year. At the same time, Christie's has scaled back the number of wine auctions in London this year to seven or eight - from about 13 or 14 last year - partly because of the economic downturn. The first one, held last month, achieved sales of more than GBP1.11 million (HK$12.61 million). New York, however, maintains a significant lead over Hong Kong and London, with more than US$100 million in wine auction sales last year. David Elswood, international head of Christie's wine department, said more wine was likely to be auctioned in Hong Kong than in London this year, mainly because of the duty exemption and the region's relatively robust economy. But he said it was still uncertain whether this would remain the situation in future. Over the years, London's wine auction market has stayed fairly stable, with sales averaging about GBP20 million a year. 'Within a year or two, we'll see who is here to stay for the long term,' Mr Elswood said. But David Wainwright, senior international adviser at US wine merchant Zachys, said the global economic downturn appeared to have had less of an influence in Hong Kong, where interest in the wine market had increased. 'In London, I cannot imagine Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams doing more than about GBP20 million in sales this year,' Mr Wainwright said. 'I don't think London will pick up much after the downturn. Hong Kong will probably continue to top London.' Three auctions have been held in Hong Kong so far this year, with total sales of about HK$117 million, despite the credit crunch. New York-based Acker Merrall & Condit's auction last month recorded sales of about HK$35 million. It plans at least two more Hong Kong sales this year. Sotheby's achieved wine sales of almost HK$50 million at the first of its two auctions, while Zachys sold HK$32 million worth of wine on Saturday. Zachys will have three more sales this year, each generating an estimated US$4 million, Mr Wainwright said. There will also be auctions by Christie's and Bonhams, which has a sale on Friday.