The Trump administration announced Monday that it would block shipments of certain cotton products and computer parts from the Xinjiang province in China, but is still considering a broader ban on imports from the region.
The details: Customs and Border Protection will issue five new “Withhold Release Orders” on hair products, linen and cotton fabrics and computer parts from four companies in the Xinjiang region, as well those coming from a Chinese “reeducation” facility for Muslims that the U.S. government says amounts to a concentration camp.
The orders stop short of outright bans on imports of cotton products and tomatoes from the Muslim-majority province. Department of Homeland Security Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said on Monday said the administration is still weighing a wider ban.
“These are not the first WROs the U.S. has issued on Chinese goods, and I can tell you I’m absolutely confident they’re not going to be the last,” Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan told reporters on a press call.
Context: The five new orders follow pressure from unions and activists groups for clothing brands to stop sourcing from the Uighur region within 12 months. The groups estimate about one-fifth of all cotton garments sold in the world contain Xinjiang cotton or yarn.
CBP has also issued a dozen previous WROs on various products from the Xinjiang region to combat concerns of forced labor, Morgan said on the call. About 85 percent of China’s cotton is grown in Xinjiang, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Morgan said CPB has used “variety of sources” to determine that the blocked goods are being produced by forced labor, like federal agency reports, nonprofit research and media investigations.
Cuccinelli added that the U.S. government is trying to develop methods to determine if other products are produced with forced labor.
“We are working on advancing the technology to trace even directly where product like this comes from,” he said. “We’d like businesses in other parts of the world that would like to do business in the U.S. to disentangle themselves from this set of horrific practices.”
Pressure ramping up: The move puts further strain on U.S.-China relations, which have already deteriorated this year because of tensions over the coronavirus and Beijing’s crackdown on political dissent in Hong Kong.
The United States imported close to $50 billion worth of textiles from China last year. Uighur cotton, yarn and fabric is used by other countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to make clothing. Policing that volume of imports would be a massive undertaking for the CBP.
Xinjiang, a vast province in northwestern China, produces an estimated 70 percent of Chinese tomatoes, which find their way into a variety of products, such as tomato paste or ketchup. Most U.S. fresh tomato imports come from Mexico or Canada.