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

US said the orders are aimed at combating China's use of forced labour by detained Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
US said the orders are aimed at combating China's use of forced labour by detained Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Trump administration on Monday (Sept 14) 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 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 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 on Monday.  

CBP acting Commissioner Mark Morgan said on Monday that 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 key officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.  
China also had agreed to purchase 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 labor 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 Xinjiang entities whose products will be blocked from entering the United States include all products made with labor from the Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center; hair products from the Lop County Hair Product Industrial Park; apparel produced by Yili Zhouwan Garment Manufacturing and Baodung 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.  

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 labor in Xinjiang and criticizing the United States for meddling in China’s internal affairs in the Xinjiang region.