Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday, 8 September 2020


U.S. Weighs Barring Products With Cotton From China’s Xinjiang

  • Measures considered in response to allegations of forced labor
  • Moves could come as soon as Tuesday, U.S. officials say

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The Trump administration is considering a ban on importing products containing cotton from the Xinjiang region of China in response to Beijing’s alleged repression of the Uighur Muslim minority group, according to two U.S. officials.

The move would be carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection in response to concerns that some Chinese companies rely on forced labor by Uighurs, according to the officials, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity ahead of an announcement that could come as soon as Tuesday.

The measures could have a broad impact on the textile industry, which relies heavily on Chinese cotton. Xinjiang produces more than 80% of China’s cotton and the U.S. imports some 30% of its apparel from China, according to a report published last October by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The scope of the move remained unclear ahead of the official announcement. If enacted, the restrictions would be enforced through withhold release orders, which Customs and Border Protection uses to combat forced labor in global supply chains, the officials said.

The measures were reported earlier by The New York Times.

As many as 1 million Uighurs have been detained in camps that the Beijing government calls “voluntary education centers.” Those not in the camps live under pervasive surveillance, like facial recognition scans when entering markets for gas stations. Officials have also banned “abnormal beards,” religious names for children and observing the traditional day-time fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

China’s treatment of Uighurs has provoked an international outcry, and the Treasury Department has sanctioned four Chinese officials linked to the region, limiting their travel to the U.S. and blocking any financial ties.

Relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated over Xinjiang other issues, including the crackdown on pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and recriminations over the spread of the coronavirus.

With less than two months before the U.S. election, President Donald Trump has made confrontation with the Chinese government and denunciations of the country a central part of his campaign. On Monday, during a news conference at the White House, Trump vowed to reduce U.S. economic ties with the world’s second-largest economy.

“We’re going to end our reliance on China because we can’t rely on China and I don’t want them building a military like they’re building right now and they’re using our money to build it,” he said.

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