In an announcement earlier this month US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it would block imports of cotton and products containing cotton from the Xinjiang region of China to help curb human rights violations. For importers trying to bring in cotton manufactured according to labor laws, ramped-up enforcement could mean an unexpected increase in inspections of shipments to determine place of origin. Knowing how to prepare can make all the difference between delayed and on time.
Forced labor, which the International Labour Organization defines as work performed involuntarily under threat of penalty, is a global humanitarian concern. Importation of goods made under such conditions has been banned since the passage of the Tariff Act of 1930. And while varying degrees of enforcement have been in play over the years, the problem persists. In a crackdown on December 2, however, US Customs and Border Protection announced a withhold release order (WRO)—issued when it is believed that goods were made at the hands of forced laborers—on all cotton products made by the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corporation (XPCC) and its subsidiaries or affiliates.
Allegations of forced labor stem from a region populated by Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities, many of whom have reportedly been detained in prison camps. Since July, CBP has announced six actions against goods made in that area.
This most recent enforcement means that intermediate or finished goods containing any amount of XPCC cotton could be detained. If a shipment is withheld by CBP, the importer has three months to either:
If CBP determines the proof is not valid, it will seize the goods.
In addition to WROs, CBP has begun issuing Risk Analysis and Survey Assessment (RASA) questionnaires: one procedural and the other transactional. The procedural questionnaire asks for details on the importer’s supply chain and labor conditions for each phase of production, the corporate social responsibility policies and internal controls on forced labor, and documentation of risk assessments. The transactional questionnaire asks the importer to map the supply chain for the subject goods from raw materials to the export shipment to the US—and requires commercial and production documents.
Given the current level of scrutiny with cotton products, importers of goods containing cotton should be prepared to respond to RASA Questionnaires—especially if the material is from China.
Below are steps to take to ensure a smoother import experience.
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