By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Trade, Education, Professional Titles: Still Vulnerable
We have added a sidebar since publishing this story detailing the call by the AAP chief Maria A. Pallante for quick input from the association’s membership on the anticipated impact of tariffs scheduled to be levied September 1 on most classifications of books printed for the US industry in China. That newer story is here.In her statement issued today (August 13), the Association of American Publishers‘ president and CEO Maria A. Pallante has pointed out that the book publishing industry is in no way out of the woods, as Donald Trump’s administration continues its lurching sequence of threats and feints on a proposed US$300 billion in new tariffs on goods imported from China.
“We remain deeply concerned,” Pallante says in her statement, “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.”
Moving to delay the levy of tariffs on certain classifications of goods until December 15—ostensibly to avoid damaging the American holiday season revenue for many industries—the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) offices in Washington have included (as described on the agency’s listings):
- 4903.00.40 Children’s picture, drawing, or coloring books
- 4910.00.20 Calendars printed on paper or paperboard in whole or in part by a lithographic process, not over 0.51 mm in thickness
And Bibles—which perhaps with some irony are said to be printable almost exclusively by Chinese presses—are off the tariff lists.
But, as Jim Milliot at Publishers Weekly sums up the remainder, about which Pallante is expressing the association’s concern, “All other [than children’s] books printed in China, including trade, education, and professional titles, are still subject to 10-percent tariffs beginning September 1.”
‘Hardbound Books, Rack Size Paperbound Books’
The USTR’s listing of product categories that remain subject to tariffs that could begin as soon as September 1 still includes a huge swath of industry output that the AAP’s vice-president for global policy, Lui Simpson, had presented to the trade representative in June as severely problematic.
The capitalization and other textual effects are directly from the trade representative’s listing for September 1, and nesoi is documentation lingo for “not elsewhere specified or indicated”:
- 4901.10.00 Printed books, brochures, leaflets and similar printed matter in single sheets,
whether or not folded
- 4901.91.00 Printed dictionaries and encyclopedias and serial installments thereof
- 4901.99.0010 TEXTBOOKS
- 4901.99.0020 NEWSPAPERS, JOURNALS AND PERIODICALS, BOUND OTHERWISE THAN IN PAPER, AND SETS OF NEWSPAPERS, JOURNALS OR PERIODICALS OF MORE THAN 1 ISSUE UNDeR 1 COVER
- 4901.99.0030 DIRECTORIES
- 4901.99.0050 TECHNICAL, SCIENTIFIC AND PROFESSIONAL BOOKS
- 4901.99.0060 ART AND PICTORIAL BOOKS VALUED UNDER $5 EACH
- 4901.99.0065 ART AND PICTORIAL BOOKS VALUED $5 OR MORE EACH
- 4901.99.0070 HARDBOUND BOOKS, NESOI
- 4901.99.0075 RACK SIZE PAPERBOUND BOOKS, NESOI
- 4901.99.0091 PRINTED MATTER, CONTAINING NOT MORE THAN 4 PAGES EACH (EXCLUDING COVERS), NESOI
- 4901.99.0092 PRINTED MATTER, NESOI, CONTAINING 5 OR MORE PAGES EACH BUT NOT MORE THAN 48 PAGES EACH (EXCLUDING COVERS)
- 4901.99.0093 PRINTED MATTER NESOI CONTAINING 49 OR MORE PAGES EACH (EXCLUDING COVERS)
For the record, “bookbinding machinery, including book-sewing machines” are still on the list, too, along with parts for that equipment, highlighting just how dependent the United States’ book industry is on China to manufacture its print products.
Just how heavily reliant the industry is on Chinese printing was explained in the testimony filed with the USTR by Simpson in June, although the reality of it came as a surprise to some, even in the States. Simpson wrote, in part:
“US publishers print a great quantity of their books in the United States. Indeed, where the US printing industry can satisfy demand, publishers choose to print in the United States, where the quality is high and turn-around time short.
“However, not all printing needs can be met domestically. … US printers long ago shifted their investment focus away from the infrastructure necessary to print and produce the kinds of books currently being printed in China. In doing so, the US printers also stopped investing in training workers to develop the technical skills required to produce such books. The particular book printing and binding that is expertly and economically done in China for the US market involves longstanding specialized technical manufacturing processes, resulting from global specialization that occurred decades ago, in the 1980s. …
“American printers have neither the capacity to print these books at the volumes required nor the specialized technical capability. It would take years, and massive capital investment, for other printers to try to develop anything resembling the resources available in China.”
Pallante: ‘A Tax on Information’
This, then, is part of what underlies Pallante’s message on the news that Bibles have been spared and children’s books get a temporary reprieve until December 15, should the imposition of tariffs go forward.
Pallante writes, “Today the administration announced the list of products to be subject to the additional 10-percent tariffs. 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 until December 15th.”
However, with the industry’s other products still on the September 1 tariffs list, Pallante goes on to point out that historically, the work of the American literary industries has been exempted from becoming fodder for hardball trade war because it carries the philosophical messaging of the nation’s culture.
“A tariff on books is a tax on information,” she writes, “and at odds with longstanding US policy of not imposing tariffs on educational, scientific, and cultural materials.
“Just as importantly, these books are part of a vital economic engine that makes significant contributions to the US economy, and supports American publishers, authors, illustrators, editors, and designers, as well as distributors and book sellers.”
Economics and Elections
Observers are clear that Donald Trump’s erratic approach is being driven by more than economic considerations.
At the Wall Street Journal, Josh Zumbrun, Vivian Salama, and Alex Leary have updated their write tonight to point out that “The shift [to December 15 for some goods] fueled a rally on Wall Street, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 1.44 percent to 26279.91. But it wasn’t immediately clear if the retreat marked a significant step toward resolving the more than yearlong trade conflict between the US and China. … But there were other influential factors, according to officials familiar with the decision, including the recent volatility in the stock market as trade tensions escalated this month. Before Tuesday, the Dow industrials had fallen by more than 1000 points since the disappointing trade talks in Shanghai in late July.”
They quote Trump saying, “We’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers.”
And as Aaron Blake wrote at the Washington Post, “It’s become increasingly apparent that the Chinese might be content to wait out Trump, perhaps hoping they’ll be able to work with a Democrat who might replace him after the 2020 election. This is a conclusion Trump has alluded to himself. Unofficial Trump economic adviser Stephen Moore recently conceded that, ‘We’re learning that maybe China has a higher pain threshold than we thought here.'”