Tariffs imposed by the U.S. upon China will place some unexpected costs on American collectors. The list of items subjected to a 15% tax as of September 1 contains many targets that are quite reasonable. For example, you will need to pay a 15% tariff on any whales you bring into the U.S. Same goes for emu and ostriches. You will have to pay the fee on any lichens you import. Sorry, lichen collectors. There is now a tariff on edible offal of swine, which, thankfully, is a tax I will never have to pay. Isn't edible offal of swine an oxymoron? You even will have to pay 15% on each and every single-cell micro-organism you import, though I imagine you could successfully smuggle a few billion of those on your body and no one would know the difference. Naturally, there's a tax on china from China. But books? Isn't there free trade on knowledge? Not any more, there isn't.
Your immediate reaction may be, sure, if some press in China is printing up cheap copies of some old, out-of-copyright Mark Twain books for sale to America, this is a logical item to tax. The idea is to protect American printers from cheap Chinese competition. However, there are no time parameters on these regulations. So, a book printed in China a couple of centuries ago will still be subject to a tariff. Will this somehow protect long-gone Colonial printers? Peter Zenger rejoice. Who will taxing a book printed in China before the printing of the Bay Psalm Book protect? Did anyone really think these rules through?
Perhaps the idea is to punish Chinese merchants in general, but these tariffs are not limited to books shipped from China. They apply to "products of China," not products shipped from China. So, that manuscript written by a 17th century British missionary while in China, which he brought back home with him over three centuries ago, and is now being sold by a British dealer to an American collector, is still subject to the tariff. One surmises that the purpose here is to prevent Chinese manufacturers from skirting the tax by shipping goods through a third country, but when it comes to antiquarian documents, it all gets ridiculous.
Now here is one place where the President clearly gets it wrong, or maybe isn't being fully forthright with us. China is not going to pay this tax. If either the British seller or American buyer of this 300-year-old document sends a bill for reimbursement of the tariff to China, they are not going to be paid. They may get laughed at, more likely ignored, but they won't get paid. I am sure of it. Unless the British dealer is feeling particularly generous, or desperate, the American buyer will end up paying the tax, not China.
The regulations apparently extend beyond items actually sold. After all, if Walmart imports an item from China, they will pay the tariff on importation, regardless of when or if they sell that product. What this means is a British dealer, bringing a Chinese book to a trade show in America, will have to pay the tariff, even if he does not sell the book in America and has to take it home with him. Similarly, if an American dealer brings an antiquarian Chinese book to Europe for a trade show but does not sell it, he can expect to get nicked with the tariff on bringing it home.
For the record, here are a few of the book and paper related items listed in the tariff schedule: printed books, brochures, leaflets, dictionaries and encyclopedias, newspapers, periodicals, journals, printed or manuscript music, maps and charts, atlases, hand-drawn plans and drawings, hand-written texts, photo reproductions, postcards, printed trade advertising and commercial catalogs, pictures, designs and photographs, and much more (including whales). If there is any question as to whether tariffs are meant to apply to more than goods being produced in China now, a later section of the regulations covers "antiques of an age exceeding one hundred years."
Whether this trade war ultimately produces anything other than two losers remains to be seen. In the meantime, Americans can expect to pay more in taxes, be it for Chinese books, sneakers, clothing, or whales. You will see it in the invoice the next time you purchase a beluga from China.