The Trump administration has decided to give Bibles a free pass amid an escalating tariff war between the U.S. and China.
In May, Christian publishers began to panic as bibles and other religious texts printed in China, together totaling some 65 percent of the 2018 U.S. brochures and leaflet imports, were set to be slapped with tariffs of up to 25 percent.
On Tuesday, however, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) published two lists of items that will be subjected to a 10% hike in tariff charge starting in September and December respectively — the Bible, USTR said, will be spared from both.
“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 Christianity Today in a statement.
Christian publishers and Bible translators were becoming increasingly concerned by the Trump administration’s refusal to back down from a trade war with China and repeatedly warned that financial restrictions on the printing of the good book would restrict its proliferation across the globe.
“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,” the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, Ben Mandrell, told CT. “Today’s announcement by [USTR] has given us hope that the administration has heard our concern.”
Mandrell did, however, express concern at the word of God being “taken hostage in an international trade dispute.”
Other items that evaded the tariff charge included child safety seats, cranes used in ports and construction, shipping containers and certain types of fish, according to Reuters. Interestingly, rosaries, which are a staple in Catholic religious practice, remain on the earlier tariff list — they will fall victim to a 10% tax when the new charges come into effect September 1.
Still, the decision to axe tariffs on the importing of Bibles has been widely celebrated by Christian leaders. “I am pleased to see today that US tariffs on China will now exempt the Bibles printed in China,” tweeted Russell Moore, President of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The announcement is “welcome news” for many publishers and ministries, he added.
The ERLC also clarified why such an overwhelming proportion of American Bibles are printed in China as opposed to at home in the United States.
“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,” the ERLC explained. “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.”