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US blocks cotton imports from China region over reported forced-labor abuses

December 3, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

HAMI, CHINA - OCTOBER 09: A farmer harvests cotton in a field on October 10, 2020 in Hami, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region of China. (Photo by Pulati Niyazi/VCG via Getty Images)

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it will block imports of cotton, reportedly produced with forced labor, from China's western Xinjiang region.

(CNN)The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it will block imports of cotton, reportedly produced with forced labor, from China's western Xinjiang region.

US Customs and Border Protection will detain shipments containing cotton and cotton products originating from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, a major cotton producer in the region, which is home to about 11 million Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority.

In July, the US issued an advisory warning businesses about the risks of forced labor in Xinjiang, where the "Chinese government continues to execute a campaign of repression targeting the Uyghur people and other ethnic and religious minority groups," CBP said.

The State Department estimates that more than 1 million Uyghurs, as well as members of other Muslim minority groups, have been detained in a sprawling network of internment camps in Xinjiang, officially named the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, where they are reportedly "subjected to torture, cruel and inhumane treatment such as physical and sexual abuse, forced labor, and death. "

On Wednesday, CBP issued what is known as a "Withhold Release Order" on cotton from Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which allows the agency to detain shipments at US ports and gives companies the opportunity to export their shipments or to demonstrate that the merchandise was not produced with forced labor.

The agency issued 13 orders during fiscal year 2020, including eight on goods it said were made by forced labor in China.

Eighty-five percent of the cotton produced in China comes from Xinjiang, according to CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner Brenda Smith, who noted the challenges for the industry to separate out goods made with forced labor versus goods that are not.

However, CBP said it's the responsibility of US companies to ensure they are not importing products produced with forced labor.

In September, CNN reported that CBP was considering a widespread regional restriction on imports from China, which would have targeted all cotton and tomato products exported from the Xinjiang region to the US.

While Wednesday's order falls short of a regional restriction, it will have "sweeping impact" because of the reach that Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps has on the region and the cotton industry, said Cuccinelli.

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