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

The Trump administration on Monday 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 (DHS) 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 labor 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 (CBP) 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.

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 officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

China also had agreed to buy increased quantities of U.S. cotton under the countries’ Phase 1 trade deal, which could be put at risk by a U.S. ban on imports from China’s dominant cotton-producing region.

“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 U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labor involvement under long-standing U.S. 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 labor.

Neither Xinjiang Junggar nor Baoding LYSZD were aware of the orders when asked on Tuesday. Yili Zhuowan declined to comment.

The U.S.-based group Worker Rights Consortium said this year that Yili Zhuowan had made gloves for French brand Lacoste that appeared to have been sewn at a factory where ethnic minority people faced forced ideological and behavioral re-education. Lacoste said it had halted shipments from that factory after those allegations, media reported.

However, he said any expansion of the ban to make it regional would be bad for business.

“It will disrupt supply chains and contribute to a worsening situation between the U.S. and China and less trust,” he said.

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 region.

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