US to block cotton from China region targeted in crackdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — The US government today declared that, in its most far-reaching action, it would stop buying cotton and tomatoes from China's Uighur region by forcing the Communist Party to fight against ethnic minorities.

The Customs and Border Security officials suggested that they would use their power to ban goods accused of being manufactured with forced labour, to prohibit cotton, tomatoes, and similar products from the Xinjiang region in north-west China.

Xinjiang is the world's largest cotton producer, so order will have major consequences on foreign trade.

The Trump administration has now banned imports from individual firms involved with slave labour in the country, and the US has placed restrictions on members of the Communist Party with leading positions in the camp.

The order would place economic strain not only on China but also on major global retailers, which buy products produced by people inadvertently or otherwise under circumstances comparable to modern slavery.

"Any global apparel brand that is not either out of Xinjiang already, or plotting a very swift exit, is courting legal and reputational disaster," said Scott Nova, the Worker's Coalition Executive Director, comprising labor and human rights organisations.

"The days when any major Xinjiang cotton brand can safely benefit are over."

The consortium reports that the United States ban impacts nearly 20 percent of world cotton production.

Certain producers have protested against a region-wide regulation by claiming that it would penalize the legitimate suppliers, and that it cannot be easy to ensure that hazardous raw materials are not used in the supply chain.

According to Brenda Smith, Executive Assistant Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection's Office of Trade, the United States imported approximately 9 billion dollars of cotton items from China last year total. This does not include imports from third countries.

Smith said last year that only about 10 million dollars in tomato products had reached the U.S. from China.

The US banned commodities from a firm that owns around a third and about 6 percent of all cotton worldwide in the Uighur Regio n in November. CBP prevented 43 shipments from entering the United States, worth more than $2 million, according to Smith.

"The ultimate objective is for China to abandon these horrific practices," said Ken Cuccinelli in a conference call announcing the next move with reporters.

In a wide network of detention camps, China has detained over one million people, including Uighurs and other, predominantly Muslim, ethnic groups.

As part of an assimilation campaign in an area whose inhabitants are ethnically and culturally distinct from the Han chinese population, people were subjected to torture, forced sterilization and political indoctrination as well as forced labour.

China opposes claims of violations of freedom and slave labour, arguing that it strives only to increase wages for minorities and to avoid radicalism.

The new and most detailed effort to press China to end the initiative is the U.S. action.

Canada and the British government have recently said that they would both take measures to avoid the entry of products impregnated with slave labour.

In the past, customs and border security threatens whole commodity lines and areas with import restrictions, which included issuing an injunction against Turkmenistani cotton in 2018 and artisanal gold from mines in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019.