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ERLC and LifeWay Respond to the Exemption of U.S. Tariffs on Bibles Printed in China

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, commented on the Administration’s decision to exempt U.S. tariffs on Bibles printed in China from the list of Chinese imports subject to additional tariffs in the coming weeks.

The news came earlier today in the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) release of next steps to impose an additional tariff of 10 percent on a variety of products imported from China. Bibles are identified by the 10-digit HTS subheading 4901.99.0040, which was excluded from both List 4A and List 4B from the USTR today.

As trade tensions escalated between the United States and Chinese governments, the USTR proposed tariffs on a wide variety of imports that included Bibles among other printed products such as textbooks, children’s books, dictionaries and encyclopedias. The ERLC and LifeWay Christian Resources collaborated in raising our concerns with Administration officials and submitting public comments to USTR.

Upon the announcement today that U.S. tariffs on China will now exempt the Bibles printed in China, Russell Moore commented on this important development:

“Whatever one thinks about trade policy, the Bible should never have been a subject of this sort of taxation. As Christians, we believe the Bible is the Word of God, and is thus central to our lives and mission. 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. 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.”

In addition, Ben Mandrell, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, commented:

"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. Today's announcement by the U.S. Trade Representative 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. 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, D.C." 

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.

While the Southern Baptist ministries were encouraged at today’s development for the distribution of Bibles, the ERLC will continue to advocate for the USTR to eliminate tariffs for trade books, including children’s, educational and scientific materials under 4901.10.00, 4903.00.00, 4901.91.00, and 4901.99.00, and 4901.91.00.40. To impose tariffs on such educational, scientific and cultural materials would be a departure from long standing United States policy committed to facilitating the flow of information and knowledge.

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