US bans cotton imports from Chinese language producer XPCC, citing Xinjiang ‘slave labor’

© Reuters. Chinese and US flags flutter in Shanghai

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Wednesday increased economic pressure on China’s Xinjiang province and banned cotton imports from a powerful Chinese quasi-military organization that allegedly uses the forced labor of imprisoned Uighur Muslims.

The US Customs and Border Protection said the withhold release order would ban cotton and cotton products from the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), one of China’s largest producers.

The move is one of several the Trump administration has been working on in recent weeks to bolster the U.S. position on China, making it more difficult for President-elect Joe Biden to ease U.S.-China tensions.

Targeting by XPCC, which produced 30% of the Chinese cotton in 2015 follows the move by the US Treasury Department in July to ban all related financial transactions.

This is followed by the imposition of an import ban by CBP on several Chinese companies operating in Xinjiang. The agency’s original intention was to ban all cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang, including XPCC. However, the ban was limited to certain companies after objections were raised by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

US clothing manufacturers had also criticized a broader ban as being impossible to enforce.

Homeland Security Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli, who oversees the border agency, told a press conference that a nationwide cotton import ban in Xinjiang is still being examined.

“We don’t just make the China label about the country of origin. It’s a warning sign,” said Cuccinelli. “Those cheap cottons you buy during this time of giving to family and friends – if they come from China – may have been made by slave labor in some of the most egregious human rights abuses existing in the modern world today.”

The US Treasury Department imposed financial sanctions in July on the ban on dollar transactions with XPCC. The company is directly involved in the “comprehensive surveillance, detention and indoctrination” of Muslim Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang by the Chinese Communist Party.

As part of a withhold release order, Customs and Border Protection can withhold shipments on suspicion of involvement of forced laborers under longstanding US laws to combat human trafficking, child labor and other human rights violations.

Trump’s government has increased pressure on China over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports that 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.

China denies the mistreatment of the Uyghurs, saying the camps are vocational training centers needed to fight extremism.

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