The Good Book got good news from the Trump administration today: America’s Bibles—most of which are printed in China and imported to the United States—are now exempt from the burgeoning trade war between the two nations.
With a 10-percent hike on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods looming next month, the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) posted two long lists of items: one of imports from China that will become subject to tariffs on September 1, and one of imports whose proposed tariffs will now be delayed until December 15.
It also noted that “certain products are being removed from the tariff list based on health, safety, national security, and other factors.”
Missing from both lists: Bibles.
“Bibles and other religious literature are among the items removed from the tariff list and will not face additional tariffs of 10 percent,” USTR confirmed to CT.
The news came as a relief to Christian publishers in the US, who warned this summer that the “Bible tax” would make some translations too costly to produce. China is the world’s largest Bible publisher, thanks to Nanjing-based Amity Press which has printed almost 200 million since 1988 in partnership with the United Bible Societies.
For example, the publishing arm of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), spends 31 percent of its total printing costs in China.
“For the past several months, there has been great concern among the Christian publishing community that our important work would be threatened by proposed tariff schedules,” Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, told CT. “Today’s announcement by [USTR] has given us hope that the administration has heard our concern.
“Nevertheless, I am troubled that the Word of God would ever be taken hostage in an international trade dispute,” he said. “These past months have strengthened our resolve to get Bibles to the people who need them. Our mandate is built on obedience to Christ, regardless of any policy proposal from Washington DC.”
“Whatever one thinks about trade policy, the Bible should never have been a subject of this sort of taxation,” stated Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) and the first on Twitter to spot the news.
“With as many Bibles as are printed in China, the news that they will not be subject to such tariffs is welcomed news for LifeWay and other publishers of God’s holy Word,” he stated. “Even still, it is concerning that trade books and educational materials—also vital to the lives of Christians and churches—are still subject to a tariff. My hope is that this too will be addressed promptly.”
Some Twitter users responded to Moore with confusion or criticism of why American Bibles are made in China. The ERLC statement noted:
Due to longstanding supply chain issues, more than 75 percent of Bibles are printed in China. Like encyclopedias and textbooks, Bibles contain a large amount of text that must be formatted to a bound book on thin paper. China has been specializing in this printing technology for decades and is home to the world’s largest Bible-printing company, printing at least 150 million Bibles in 2016.
To import Bibles from a country other than China would require time, extensive quality tests, and higher prices incompatible with the high and consistent demand for Bibles in the United States. Because such a large percentage of Bibles are printed in China, the proposed tariff would have devastated the importation of Bibles into the United States and other parts of the world where American ministries distribute God’s Word.
For example, more than three quarters of HarperCollins Christian Publishing (HCCP) production costs are incurred in China, as CT previously reported. Its two popular Bible translations, the New International Version and the King James Version, give HCCP 38 percent of America’s Bible market, which sees about 20 million Bibles sold annually.
HCCP did not respond to CT by press time, nor did the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). Both gave testimony to the US government this summer on the harmful impact of the proposed tariffs. [ECPA executive director Stan Jantz explained on CT’s Quick to Listen podcast why China is crucial for today’s Christian publishing.]
Tyndale House Publishers, owner of the New Living Translation, had also urged the Trump administration to exempt Bibles, given that more than half of its Bibles are printed in China.
“[We] are pleased that we will not be facing tariffs on Bibles printed in China,” Tyndale chairman and CEO Mark D. Taylor told CT. “Ironically, China is a major source of printing for English Bibles, and the favorable economics of printing there allow us to keep prices at a moderate level for sales throughout the rest of the world.”
The American Bible Society (ABS), which previously told CT it was praying that Bibles would win such an exclusion, praised the news.
“We are overjoyed and relieved to hear that Bibles will not be included in the initial list of items facing potential tariffs,” Roy Peterson, ABS president and CEO, told CT. “Any hindrance to Bible access as a result of these tariffs could have severely impacted the ability of people worldwide to engage Scripture and exercise their religious freedom.”
While ABS prints “the vast majority” of its millions of Bible and Scripture resources in the US each year, it does print a handful of titles in China (about 60,000 to 75,000 copies) and had faced about $50,000 in additional costs per year.
“We are pleased that the administration did not include Bibles and other religious books on the first list of products to be subject to the tariffs, and delayed tariffs on children’s books,” stated Maria A. Pallante, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. “However, we remain deeply concerned that a wide range of other books remain on the list, including American fiction and nonfiction books; art books; textbooks; dictionaries and encyclopedias; and technical, scientific and professional books.
“A tariff on books is a tax on information, and at odds with longstanding US policy of not imposing tariffs on educational, scientific and cultural materials,” she stated.
[This story has been updated with the response of Tyndale House Publishers.]