US pulls back from broad import bans for cotton, tomatoes from China’s Xinjiang

Customs and Border Protection officials told Reuters last week that they had prepared the broader bans on cotton, cotton textiles and tomatoes, among China’s biggest commodity exports, along with the orders announced yesterday. — Reuters pic
Customs and Border Protection officials told Reuters last week that they had prepared the broader bans on cotton, cotton textiles and tomatoes, among China’s biggest commodity exports, along with the orders announced yesterday. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Sept 14 — The Trump administration yesterday shelved plans for a broad import ban on cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang region while announcing narrower bans on products from five specific entities.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli said the new “Withhold Release Orders” (WROs) on cotton, textiles, apparel, hair products and computer parts are aimed at combating China’s use of forced labour by detained Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

He told reporters on a conference call that the administration was conducting more legal analysis of the region-wide import bans.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials told Reuters last week that they had prepared the broader bans on cotton, cotton textiles and tomatoes, among China’s biggest commodity exports, along with the orders announced yesterday.

CBP acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said yesterday the agency’s investigations into the region-wide orders were continuing.

Two people familiar with the Trump administration’s internal deliberations said that concerns about the broad orders and their effect on supply chains were raised by officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

China also had agreed to buy increased quantities of US cotton under the countries’ Phase 1 trade deal, which could be put at risk by a US ban on imports from China’s dominant cotton-producing region.

But Cuccinelli said it was legal concerns, not trade, that prompted the need for more study of the region-wide import bans.

“We want to make sure that when we do get challenged — and we assume that we will be challenged, legally — that we will prevail and none of the goods we would ultimately would seize under such a WRO would be shaken loose and released into the United States,” he said.

The Withhold Release Orders allow US Customs and Border Protection to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labour involvement under long-standing US laws to combat human trafficking, child labour and other human rights abuses. Shippers can send the products to other countries or seek to prove that they are not produced with forced labour.

DHS said the block on products from Xinjiang entering the United States applied to all products made with labour from the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Centre; hair products from the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park; apparel produced by Yili Zhuowan Garment Manufacturing and Baoding LYSZD Trade and Business Co; Cotton produced and processed by Xinjiang Junggar Cotton and Linen Co Ltd; and computer parts made by Hefei Bitland Information Technology Co Ltd

Neither Xinjiang Junggar nor Baoding LYSZD were aware of the orders when asked today. Yili Zhuowan declined to comment.

The US-based group Worker Rights Consortium said this year that Yili Zhuowan had made gloves for French brand Lacoste that appeared to have been sewn at a factory where ethnic minority people faced forced ideological and behavioural re-education. Lacoste said it had halted shipments from that factory after those allegations, media reported.

A China-based cotton trader said the new orders should “largely be discounted” as they impacted only a few, small suppliers.

However, he said any expansion of the ban to make it regional would be bad for business.

“It will disrupt supply chains and contribute to a worsening situation between the US and China and less trust,” he said.

President Donald Trump’s administration is ratcheting up pressure on China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports as saying 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.

The Chinese embassy in Washington referred to past Chinese foreign ministry statements rejecting allegations of forced labour in Xinjiang and criticising the United States for meddling in China’s internal affairs in the region. — Reuters

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