U.S. Customs and Border Protection appears to be implementing a crackdown on items produced in China’s Xinjiang region, where ethnic Uyghur residents are oppressed by the country’s communist government. Richard Vanderford reports for The Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. has mounted an aggressive crackdown on imports over concerns about Chinese forced labor, but the campaign is an opaque one, with little detaileddata on which companies or sectors are being targeted.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say they have blocked more than 2,300 shipments, using a new law intended to target forced labor-linked goods from China’s Xinjiang region, home to the Uyghur people and other minority groups. January alone saw 282 shipments stopped over forced labor concerns, according to Customs data.
China has rejected allegations that it uses forced labor in Xinjiang. But the law, which has been in force for about eight months, operates as a virtual ban on goods from the region, with exceptions made, in theory, if importers can persuade Customs that the goods in question aren’t tainted by forced labor.
Though senior officials have likened their enforcement push to high-profile U.S. endeavors to combat foreign bribery, the effort so far remains relatively mysterious to observers both in academia and industry.
“A lot of members they’re just overwhelmed with how to comply,” said Eugene Laney, president of the American Association of Exporters and Importers, a trade group that includes companies from many sectors among its members. “We just want to see more information sharing.”
This opacity—a lack of detail on whose goods are being stopped or why—has made it difficult to discern where exactly Customs officials might be focusing their attention. The stakes for companies can be high, because the law instructs Customs to bar goods with any ties to Xinjiang at any stage in their production, a type of “guilty until proven innocent” regime in the eyes of some industry observers.
Some supply chains can be many tiers deep, and companies, especially those that are less sophisticated, have found it challenging to trace the components in their merchandise back to their sources.
The law, known as the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, mandates that particular attention be paid to imports of products containing cotton, tomatoes and polysilicon—a component in solar panels.
Customs said in a statement that it is prohibited from naming the companies which are the ultimatebeneficiaries of targeted shipments.
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