The Trump administration announced a ban on importing all cotton and tomato products from the western region of Xinjiang on Wednesday over allegations they are made with forced labor from detained Uyghur Muslims.
The US Customs and Border Protection said the order applies to raw fibers, clothing and textiles made from cotton grown in Xinjiang, as well as canned tomatoes, sauces, seeds and other tomato products from the region, even if they are manufactured or manufactured in third countries.
The agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), estimates that about $ 9 billion of cotton products and $ 10 million of tomato products were imported from China to the United States last year.
Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Kenneth Cuccinelli, said in a news release that the order sends a message to importers that “DHS will not tolerate forced labor of any kind” and companies should eliminate Xinjiang products from their supply chains.
The move is the latest by the Trump administration in its final days to strengthen the US position against Beijing, and to impose economic sanctions that would make it difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to ease tensions between the United States and China after taking office on January 20.
In December, Congress passed the Bipartisan Forced Labor Prevention Act, which assumes that all goods manufactured in Xinjiang are made of forced labor and thus have been banned, unless the CBP certifies otherwise.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in his final days in office, was balancing whether forced labor in Xinjiang constituted “an atrocity” or described it as a “genocide,” which analysts say will have major ramifications for relations with China.
The region-wide import ban followed a move to block imports of cotton from China’s largest producer, the Xinjiang Army-Associated Production and Construction Corps (XPCC).
Both will have a significant impact on cotton production in Xinjiang, which produces up to 20% of the global supply of the commodity.
Cotton futures prices eased slightly on Wednesday, but traders attributed the decline to profit taking after prices reached their highest level in two years on the back of lower production expectations in the United States.
CBP officials said about 43 shipments of cotton products have been seized at US ports of entry since the XPCC ban was announced.
The US apparel industry had previously criticized a sweeping ban as impossible to enforce.
On Tuesday, a coalition of apparel and retail groups said in a joint statement that members are working to push forced labor out of their supply chains, but that they hope to work with the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection “to make sure the app is smart, transparent, targeted and effective.”
The United Nations cites what it says are credible reports that one million Muslims held in camps have been settled for work in Xinjiang, and religious leaders, activist groups and others have said crimes against humanity, including genocide, are occurring.
China denies mistreatment of Uighurs and says the camps are vocational training centers necessary to combat extremism.
The Chinese embassy in Washington said in a statement that the forced labor issue was a “political lie” and pledged to take measures to protect the rights of its companies.
“The US side resorts to pressure, sanctions and other means to suppress Xinjiang companies and undermine Xinjiang’s stability, development and prosperity,” the statement said.