US-China trade war threatens Bible production

Publishers warn that the proposed increase of tariffs to China could result in a Bible shortage in the United States. There are “no substantial domestic manufacturing alternatives” to respond to the demand.

Evangelical Focus

Protestante Digital · WASHINGTON D.C. · 17 JULY 2019 · 17:55 CET

The production of Biles is at risk. / Luis Quintero, Pexels,
The production of Biles is at risk. / Luis Quintero, Pexels

United States President Donald Trump has warned with an additional $300 billion in sanctions on goods imported from China, including the paper used to produce millions of Bibles that are printed in the Asian country.

Publishers are warning that President Donald Trump's measure could result in a Bible shortage in the US.

They believe that the proposed tariff would make the Bible more expensive for consumers and Christian organizations that give away Bibles as part of their ministry.

The proposed tariffs are currently on hold as trade negotiations resume following months of debate between officials of both governments.



Bibles are printed on unusually thin paper that requires specialized machines”, Mark Schoenwald, President of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, said in testimony to the US Trade Representative.

According to Schoenwald, “up to 75% of what it costs a publisher to make a Bible, with its complex illustrations and ultra-thin pages that make it portable, is spent in China and can't be handled elsewhere”.

HarperCollins owns the two largest Bible publishers in the United States, Zondervan and Thomas Nelson, which command roughly 38% of the American Bible market.

“We believe the administration was unaware of the potential negative impact these proposed tariffs would have on the publishing industry generally, and that it never intended to impose a 'Bible Tax' on consumers and religious organizations”, Schoenwald declared.



It is difficult to gauge the full size of the US Bible market. Associated Press informed that HarperCollins estimates roughly 20 million Bibles are sold in the United States each year. The NDP Group, sold 5.7 million print Bibles in the US In 2018.

These figures show the Bible is by far the top-selling book in the US. The next best-seller behind it in 2018 was Michelle Obama's “Becoming”, with 3.5 million copies sold.



The proposed 25% tariff would apply to all books, but publishers say it would disproportionately affect Bibles and children's books, because both tend to have specialized printing requirements that Chinese printers are set up to meet, while many domestic printers are not.

“US printers moved their Bible printing facilities abroad decades ago, leaving no substantial domestic manufacturing alternatives”, Schoenwald said.



Some publishers warned that raising the price of Bibles make them inaccessible to people with lower incomes, and may even affect religious freedom guaranteed in the US Constitution.

Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, also testified at the US Trade Representative, stating that “the proposed tariffs will impact all Christians' ability to exercise their religious freedom in the United States”.

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