(Bloomberg) — The U.S. will bar entry of all cotton products and tomatoes from China’s Xinjiang region, where it says Beijing is oppressing Muslim-minority Uighurs.
The move is the latest in a series of actions where the U.S. is raising pressure on China over some companies’ alleged ill-treatment of workers. The U.S. says the Chinese government has detained more than 1 million Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in “re-education” internment camps, allegations that the Foreign Ministry in Beijing denies.
“Forced labor is a form of modern slavery,” Acting Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli said on a call with reporters Wednesday. “‘Made in China’ doesn’t just indicate country of origin — it’s a warning label.”
The goods to be detained at U.S. ports of entry in the so-called withhold-release order, or WRO, following the CBP investigation include apparel, textiles, tomato seeds, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce, Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said. The WRO will also apply to products manufactured in other countries that use cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, he said.
The action is a blow for the U.S. clothing industry, given that one-fifth of the world’s cotton comes from the region. The U.S. imported $9 billion of cotton products in the past year and $10 million of tomatoes from China, said Brenda Smith, the executive assistant commissioner in the office of trade at CBP.
In a statement, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association and U.S. Fashion Industry Association asked the CBP to share the evidence and thresholds used to arrive at its findings. They also requested that the agency “share enforcement actions so that industry can further inform their due diligence and amplify and expand CBP’s enforcement efforts.”
The ban is “very significant,” AAFA President and CEO Steve Lamar said in an emailed response to questions. “All companies that use cotton in their supply chains need to take notice.” The association represents more than 590 firms.