Washington – The US government announced on Wednesday that it will halt imports of cotton and tomatoes from the Uyghur region in China, in its most comprehensive measures yet to pressure the Communist Party over its campaign against ethnic minorities.
Officials said Customs and Border Protection would use its authority to block products suspected of forced labor to prevent the entry of cotton, tomatoes and related products from northwest China’s Xinjiang region.
Xinjiang is a major global supplier of cotton, so this demand could have major impacts on international trade. The Trump administration has already banned imports from individual companies linked to forced labor in the region, and the United States has imposed sanctions on Communist Party officials with prominent roles in the campaign.
The matter will put economic pressure not only on China, but on major global retailers who inadvertently or otherwise import goods produced by people under conditions similar to modern slavery.
“Any global clothing brand that is not already outside Xinjiang, or plans to exit too quickly, is causing legal disaster and damaging the reputation,” said Scott Nova, executive director of the Workers’ Rights Association, which includes rights and rights groups. “Gone are the days when any major clothing brand could safely utilize Xinjiang cotton.”
The consortium estimates that the US embargo affects about 20% of the global cotton supply.
Some manufacturers have argued against the system at the district level, saying that it can penalize legitimate producers and because it can be difficult to ensure that contaminated raw materials do not enter the supply chain. This is especially true of Chinese cotton which is used in making garments for export in other countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam.
The United States imported $ 9 billion worth of cotton goods from China overall last year, according to Brenda Smith, assistant executive commissioner in the Trade Bureau of Customs and Border Protection. This does not include products from third countries.
Smith said only $ 10 million worth of tomato products entered the United States from China last year.
In November, The United States barred goods from a company that controlled about a third of the Uyghur region’s cotton production n and about 6% of the world’s total cotton. Under this order, Smith said, the CBP stopped 43 shipments from entering the United States, worth more than $ 2 million.
“The ultimate goal is for China to abandon these horrific practices,” Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cochinelli said in a conference call with reporters to announce the latest measure.
China has imprisoned more than a million people, including Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups, in an extensive network of internment camps. People were subjected to torture, forced sterilization, and political indoctrination, as well as forced labor as part of the assimilation drive in a region whose residents differed ethnically and culturally from the majority of Han Chinese.
China denies the allegations of human rights violations and forced labor, saying it only aims to increase income among minorities and eliminate extremism.
The US action is the latest, and most extensive, attempt to pressure China to end the campaign. Both Canada and the British government recently said that they would also take steps to prevent forced-tainted goods from entering their countries.
Customs and Border Protection has targeted entire production lines and banned areas in the past, including an order against cotton from Turkmenistan in 2018 and gold from artisanal mines in eastern DRC in 2019.
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