Scrap the import duty on booksThey should be making books cheaper, not more expensive.
The government’s decision to charge 10 percent customs duty on imported books has finally begun to affect Nepalis negatively—something that was known when the tariff was first announced in the budget speech for the fiscal year 2019-20. The recent troubling announcement from Nepal Mandala, a book shop based in Pokhara, about how it cannot continue importing foreign books, led to emotive outbursts on social media from book lovers from all walks of society. But this is only the beginning. If the high customs duty continues to be applied, and more and more book shops give up, Nepal’s entire knowledge base and imagination will be local-based and stagnant.
While nationalistic and patriotic mindsets may somehow think that this will increase the production and variety of books produced domestically, in reality, this is highly unlikely. What is more likely to happen is the erosion of the diversity of thought, and the creation of a narrow-minded populace that has no exposure to the outside literary world. At a time when the government should be subsidising books to encourage reading, this move is highly regressive. The government must scrap the import duty immediately.
Much like every other idea that this current administration has decided to parrot, the idea of taxing book imports is unoriginal. Many regressive authorities both in Nepal and abroad have attempted to do so in the name of protecting domestic publishing. But most have backtracked on their decision due to how unpopular the moves were. For instance, then finance ministers Ram Sharan Mahat (fiscal year 1997-98) and Madhukar Rana (fiscal year 2005-06) attempted to put up a 10 percent and 5 percent duty respectively, only to bow down to popular pressure. Similarly, European countries attempted to charge high tariffs on ebooks to preserve printing businesses, but were forced to backtrack to a certain degree—greatly slashing previously announced duties.
India is the only one standing strong on its decision to implement 5 percent import duty beginning in 2019-20, and that is still half the rate proposed by Nepal. Moreover, while India’s decision may make sense for it from an economic standpoint, Nepal’s surely does not. India is a major market, with the world’s sixth-largest book market—second in terms of English language prints—expected to reach IRs739 billion in 2020. This encourages foreign publishers to set up domestic businesses in India itself. Then, with small tariffs on imports, it makes more sense for these international publishers to begin printing more books domestically.
In comparison, Nepal’s market is small. International publishers will not be swayed to open local branches here, less so if larger neighbouring markets have import tariffs of their own. And, forgetting the ethicality of piracy for a moment, most Nepalis cannot afford devices to read ebooks. To help Nepalis reach a larger, more diverse knowledge base, and to further increase the size of the book market in Nepal, what the government should be doing is subsidising books. A country that has promised all residents free education until the secondary level—legally binding as a right in the constitution—should not be attempting to stifle learning by putting up nonsensical barriers.
If the government’s true aim is to promote more local publishing, it should reduce the tariffs on raw materials—products such as paper and ink—to make domestic products competitive. But only by allowing a free flow of books can the government encourage a more learned populace. If Nepalis are deprived of foreign books, or are forced to consume less due to them being expensive, the country itself will stagnate. The communist government must remember that even its own ideology came from foreign books such as those of Marx.
What do you think?
Dear reader, we’d like to hear from you. We regularly publish letters to the editor on contemporary issues or direct responses to something the Post has recently published. Please send your letters to [email protected] with "Letter to the Editor" in the subject line. Please include your name, location, and a contact address so one of our editors can reach out to you.