On Tuesday, June 18, American Booksellers Association President Jamie Fiocco, owner of Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was among those who testified before the Office of U.S. Trade Representatives (USTR) in opposition to proposed tariffs on printed books from China. The hearing was held at the USTR’s offices in Washington, D.C. ABA also submitted written testimony.
The Trump administration has proposed imposing a 25 percent tariff on $300 billion worth of manufactured goods imported into the U.S., including books.
“It is crucial to understand that even the most successful of independent bookstores operate on the thinnest of margins,” Fiocco said in her testimony. “If prices increase due to an increase in tariffs, the negative impact on the fiscal health of the bookselling world, and on readers young and old, would be significant.” (See Fiocco’s testimony in full here and ABA’s written testimony, submitted separately to USTR, below.)
The proposed tariffs are a supplemental action in response to China’s unfair trade practices related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation, based on the findings in USTR’s investigation of China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, the USTR noted in a press release. A scheduled seven days of testimony began on Monday, June 17. It’s expected that more than 300 witnesses will provide testimony before the USTR, and more than 2,000 comments were submitted prior to the hearings, according to Yahoo Finance.
In her oral testimony, Fiocco said that a tariff on books would not only affect the affordability of books, “it will impact what makes my store and other stores like mine unique…. Tariffs on book titles would impose significant and unwarranted roadblocks on creating a vibrant, diverse children’s book section, for example.”
She added that there is an issue of free expression at stake: “Any increase in the price of books would limit their sale, thereby limiting the exchange of ideas. The importance of providing affordable books by a diverse range of authors to the residents of communities throughout this country cannot be overstated.”
Highlighting the very thin margins inherent in bookselling, Fiocco said, “Imposing tariffs on books would seriously and disproportionately damage U.S. small and medium-sized businesses, like my bookstore, and consumers.” In addition, she noted that “ABA believes imposing tariffs on books is a clear reversal of decades of U.S. policy that exempts books and other written material from trade restrictions, and to make this change would undercut important American policy interests.”
Also testifying on a panel alongside ABA’s Fiocco was Daniel Reynolds, Workman Publishing CEO; Mark Schoenwald, president and CEO of HarperCollins Christian Publishing; Craig Anderson, senior vice president of Publishers Clearing House; M. Luisa Simpson, vice president, global policy, Association of American Publishers (AAP); and Stan Jantz, president and CEO, Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.
In their testimony, the representatives from the publishers and the AAP noted to the USTR that among the types of books most affected would be Bibles and children’s books, which both require printing capabilities not widely available in the U.S.
“The imposition of tariffs on printed books would have a severe adverse economic impact on American publishers and partner businesses (including booksellers and schools), because there are no alternatives to printing these books in China, and the economic harm would in turn severely compromise the publishing industry’s ability to invest in American voices and provide readers around the world with important books about culture, religion, history, and education,” AAP’s Simpson said in her testimony. “Indeed, we believe that a vibrant publishing industry in the United States powers American thought leadership around the world and should be a priority for the U.S. government.”
Accessing the overall effects the proposed tariffs would have on children’s books, Workman’s Reynolds said, “This would have a devastating effect on our industry and the people who buy and enjoy” the titles published by Workman and other publishers. —by Dave Grogan, with reporting by Dan Cullen
ABA’s written testimony, submitted to USTR:
June 17, 2019
By Electronic Submission
The Honorable Robert E. Lighthizer
United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20508
Re: Request for Public Comment Concerning Proposed Modification of Action Pursuant to Section 301: China’s Acts, Policies, and Practices Related to Technology Transfer, Intellectual Property, and Innovation. Docket No. USTR-2019-0004
Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:
The American Booksellers Association (ABA) appreciates the opportunity to provide information in response to the request for public comments in these proceedings.
Founded in 1900, ABA is a national not-for-profit trade organization that works to help independently owned bookstores across the country grow and succeed. ABA’s core members are key participants in their communities’ local economy and culture, and to assist them ABA provides education, information dissemination, business products, and services; creates relevant programs; and engages in public policy, industry, and local first advocacy. In addition, ABA actively supports and defends free speech and the First Amendment rights of all Americans. ABA is headquartered in White Plains, New York.
ABA understands the Administration’s serious concerns with China’s failure to protect intellectual property and the related issues of forced technology transfers that are being discussed here. However, ABA believes that imposing tariffs on printed books would not have any impact on China’s policies in these areas. Imposing tariffs on books is a clear reversal of decades of U.S. policy that exempts books and other written material from trade restrictions, and to make this change would undercut important American policy interests. In addition, imposing tariffs on books would seriously and disproportionately damage U.S. small and medium sized businesses, like my bookstore, and consumers.
It is crucial to understand that even the most successful of independent bookstores operate on the thinnest of margins. And despite growth and success in recent years, bookselling is a highly volatile business. If prices increase due to an increase in tariffs, the negative impact on the fiscal health of the bookselling world — and on readers young and old — would be significant.
Based on information from publishing colleagues, some 25 percent of books they publish are printed in China. And the great majority of children’s books and texts such as Bibles are printed in China. Not only will the proposed tariff impact what books are available — and affordable — to young readers and their families, it will impact what makes my store, and other stores like mine, unique. In independent bookstores, sections are curated carefully by store owners to fit the needs of the communities in which the indie bookstore resides. Tariffs on book titles would impose significant and unwarranted roadblocks on creating a vibrant, diverse children’s book section, for example. This unfortunate result would impact both my business and the young readers and families in my community in ways that will unquestioningly have long-ranging impact on future readers.
There is a free expression issue at stake here as well. Any increase in the price of books would limit their sale, thereby limiting the exchange of ideas. The importance of providing affordable books by a diverse range of authors to the residents of communities throughout this country cannot be overstated.
ABA therefore asks that all printed books under Chapter 49 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule be removed from the list of products to be subject to the proposed additional tariff of 25 percent, as announced by your office on May 17, 2019, in the above referenced proceeding. Specifically, we ask that the following tariff codes not be subject to tariffs:
- 4901.10.00 (for printed books, brochures, leaflets and similar printed matter, whether or not in single sheets)
- 4901.91.00 (dictionaries and encyclopedias)
- 4901.99.00 (Other)
- 4901.99.00.10 (textbooks)
- 4901.99.00. 40 (Bibles, testaments, prayer books, and other religious works)
- 4901.99.00.50 (Technical, scientific and professional books)
- 4901.99.00.70 (Hardbound books)
- 4901.99.00.75 (Rack size paperbound books)
- 4901.99.00.92 (Other containing 5 or more pages each, but not more than 48 pages each, excluding covers)
- 4901.99.00.93 (Other containing 49 or more pages each, excluding covers)
- 4903.00.00 (children’s picture, drawing or coloring books)
- 4910.00 (Calendars of any kind, printed, including calendar blocks: Printed on paper or paperboard in whole or in part by a lithographic process)
- 4910.00.20 (Not over 0.51 mm in thickness)
- 4910.00.40 (Over 0.51 mm in thickness)
- 4910.00.60 (Other)
Simply put: Taxing books would be bad policy. The proposed tariffs would inflict harm on our customers — a diverse community of readers. Imposing tariffs also would undercut fundamental American values, such as the First Amendment right of every citizen to have access to a wide range of diverse voices and writings.
A 25 percent tariff on U.S. authored and designed books that are printed in China is not a practical or effective means of eliminating or alleviating China’s unfair discriminatory acts, policies, or practices targeted by the Section 301 investigation. The investigation was launched to address China’s practices related to the forced transfer of American technology and the theft of intellectual property. Those practices are not relevant to and do not involve the printing of books.
Any tariff on printed books, regardless of genre or title, would be a tax on every reader, whether they are community members who buy books in our store, or whether they are school districts seeking to provide titles for students. It will drive up the cost of books for everyone who reads. In many cases, especially in poorer areas, it may be the difference between whether a book is affordable to a reader or not. The long-term deleterious impact that this could have would be significant. It will also disproportionately damage both U.S. businesses and consumers, as well as critical priorities and values for our country.
Jamie Fiocco, President, American Booksellers Association
Owner, Flyleaf Books
752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514