In a significant development, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have prepared orders to block the import of tomato and cotton products from China’s Xinjiang region over allegations of forced labor.
A formal announcement by the U.S. Administration of the trade action, which was initially expected on Tuesday, has been postponed to later this week due to “scheduling issues,” said a spokesman from CBP.
A formal announcement of the import bans over alleged forced-labor in modern concentration camps in China’s Xinjiang, will be unprecedented move since the “Withhold Release Orders” will enable the CBP to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labor involvement under long-standing U.S. laws aimed at combating human trafficking, child labor and other human rights abuses.
The United Nations has stated, it has credible reports that 1 million Muslims have been detained in camps in China’s Xinjiang region, where they are put to work.
Washington is ratcheting up pressure on China over its treatment of Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslims.
In a statement, CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith said, effective import bans will impact entire supply chains involving cotton, including cotton yarn, textiles and apparel, as well as tomatoes, tomato paste and other products exported from the region.
“We have reasonable but not conclusive evidence that there is a risk of forced labor in supply chains related to cotton textiles and tomatoes coming out of Xinjiang,” said Smith in an interview. “We will continue to work our investigations to fill in those gaps.”
U.S. law requires the CBP to detain shipments over allegation of forced labor, she said.
The potential bans, will have far reaching impact on U.S. apparel producers and retailers as well as food manufacturers.
China produces about 20% of the world’s cotton and most of it comes from Xinjiang. China also is the world’s largest importer of cotton, including from the United States.
The China Cotton Association, a trade body, declined to comment on Wednesday.
According to a Beijing-based cotton trader, the impact of a ban on cotton, could be limited since China imports around 2 million tonnes of cotton as well as 2 million tonnes of cotton yarn every year; these may be sufficient to produce textiles for the United States.
Xinjiang’s output is about 5 million tonnes.
“If Xinjiang cotton goes to the domestic industry and non-Western markets, the impact may be limited, it can probably still be digested,” he said.
In the short-term, it could also boost cotton imports into China, he added.
MODERN FORCED LABOR CAMPS IN XINJIANG
In March 2020, a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers had proposed legislation that effectively assumes that all goods produced in Xinjiang are made with forced labor and requires certification that they are not.
In July 2020, Washington issued an advisory saying companies doing business in Xinjiang or with entities using Xinjiang labor could be exposed to “reputational, economic, and legal risks.”
The U.S. State Department has also sent a letter to large American companies including Amazon.com Inc, Walmart Inc and Apple Inc over potential risks faced from maintaining supply chains associated with human rights abuses in Xinjiang region.
In a draft announcement, the CBP said it has identified forced-labor indicators involving the cotton, textile and tomato supply chains “including debt bondage, unfree movement, isolation, intimidation and threats, withholding of wages, and abusive working and living conditions.”
The agency’s orders would block cotton produced by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, and apparel produced by Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing Co Ltd and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Co Ltd. It says those entities use prison labor from Chinese government administered “re-education” internment camps.
Further, CBP’s proposed orders also aim to block imports of products made at the Lop County Industrial Park as well as the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center. The development comes in the wake of a detention on July 1 of hair extensions and other goods from the Lop County Meixin Hair Product Co..
The CBP orders will also block the imports of computer parts produced by the Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co Ltd, based in Anhui, China.