On Tuesday, the United States is set to block imports of cotton and tomatoes from the Xinjiang region in western China over accusations that they are produced using forced labor, US customs and border officials told Reuters.
The action, which affected two of China’s main commodity exports, will be announced at the White House along with five other import bans related to forced labor abuse in Xinjiang, an unprecedented move that could cause tensions between the world’s two largest economies.
The ban allows the CBP to detain shipments based on suspicions of involvement in forced labor, in accordance with long-standing US laws aimed at combating human trafficking, child labor and other human rights abuses.
The Trump administration is stepping up pressure on China over its treatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghur Muslim population. The United Nations has said it has credible reports of 1 million Muslims being held in camps in the region where they are being forced to work.
China denies the mistreatment of Uyghurs and claims the camps are vocational training centers needed to combat extremism.
CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith told Reuters that effective import bans will apply to all cotton supply chains, including cotton yarn, textiles, and clothing, as well as tomatoes, tomato paste, and other products exported from the region.
“We have reasonable but not convincing evidence that there is a risk of forced labor in supply chains involving cotton fabrics and tomatoes coming from Xinjiang,” Smith said. “We will continue our investigations to fill these gaps.”
According to her, US law requires the agency to detain shipments if there are allegations of forced labor, such as by NGOs.
Bans can have far-reaching implications for retailers and clothing manufacturers in the United States, as well as food manufacturers. China produces about 20 percent of the world’s cotton, most of which come from Xinjiang. China is also the world’s largest cotton importer, including from the United States.
In March, US lawmakers proposed a law that effectively assumes that all goods manufactured in Xinjiang are manufactured using forced labor, and requires certification that this is not the case.
Xinjiang is also a major tomato producer and exporter of tomato products, including tomato paste and tomato powder, used in ketchup and other foods.