(Bloomberg) — Four months into a sweeping ban on imports from China’s Xinjiang region, the top US customs official is signaling confidence that companies are observing the embargo.
“There are going to be some rough spots along the way, but I think we’ve been off to a remarkably good start,” Chris Magnus, the commissioner of US Customs and Border Protection, said in an interview at the Bloomberg News Washington office on Thursday.
The ban, which is aimed at pressuring Beijing over the forced labor of the minority Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, puts the onus on importing companies to ensure none of their goods were even partially made in that region. The blanket measure has threatened to reshape the broader US-China trade relationship.
“We’re seeing good examples of compliance so far,” Magnus said. “When you start to have some success stories, business starts to become more comfortable that there’s a way to work with this act — and the issue of forced labor in general.”
Magnus pointed to popular support for the legislation. President Joe Biden signed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, or UFLPA, in December after it was passed without opposition in the Senate and by a 428-1 vote in the House.
“Ultimately this comes down to the American public wants this — the consciousness has by and large been raised about this issue,” the customs chief said. “People want to buy products that they can feel confident are not made with forced labor.”
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Under the UFLPA, the US government assumes that anything made even partially in Xinjiang is produced with forced labor and can’t be imported unless companies are able to provide “clear and compelling evidence” otherwise.
The new process effectively supplanted about a dozen existing orders barring the import of some goods from Xinjiang, including cotton, tomatoes and solar-panel material.
While the new law only took effect in late June, for the fiscal year that ended in September items from Xinjiang covered by the recently-implemented legislation accounted for almost half of the more than 3,000 shipments that were detained by CBP and prohibited from entering the US, with an estimated value of almost $500 million.
CBP is still ramping up monitoring efforts to make importers comply, AnnMarie Highsmith, an executive assistant commissioner at the agency, said in the same meeting Thursday.
At the same time, it’s equally important to give companies the tools needed to identify potential forced labor in their supply chains — so they can avoid unwitting violations the of the act and getting caught up in enforcement actions, she said.
The UFLPA aims to put pressure on Beijing for allegedly detaining minorities in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwestern China, where about 10 million Uyghurs live. China has been accused of incarcerating more than a million Uyghurs in recent years, and for forcing Muslim citizens into forced labor including the harvesting of cotton. Beijing has repeatedly denied that it is committing such human-rights abuses.