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US Bans Imports of Cotton, Tomato-Based Products From China's Uighur Region

FILE - Migrant workers pick cotton in a field in Korla, Oct. 10, 2006, in a town on the edge of the Tarim Basin and the Taklamakan Desert, south of Urumqi, capital of China's far west Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The U.S. said Wednesday it would stop importing cotton and tomato-based food products from China’s Uighur region as part of a pressure campaign against the Communist Party for allegedly using forced labor from detained Uighur Muslims.

The ban, announced by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection at a Washington news conference, applies to raw fibers, apparel and textiles made from cotton grown in the Xinjiang region of northwest China.

The area is a major supplier of cotton worldwide, so the ban could have significant effects on global commerce. The Trump administration previously banned imports from individual companies linked to forced labor in the region.

The Worker Rights Consortium, which includes labor and human rights groups, estimates the U.S. ban affects about 20% of the global cotton supply.

Some manufacturers have expressed opposition to a region-wide order, contending it can penalize legitimate producers and because it can be difficult to ensure tainted raw materials do not enter the supply chain.

About $9 billion worth of Chinese cotton goods were imported into the U.S. last year, according to the Customs and Border Protection's Office of Trade. The office said only about $10 million in tomato products entered the U.S. last year from China.

In a joint statement, the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Retail Federation, Retail Industry Leaders Association, and the United States Fashion Industry Association applauded the move.

“The companies we represent remain outraged by the reports of forced labor in the XUAR – and reports that Uyghurs are being trafficked to other regions – and have long made eradicating forced labor in our supply chains a top operational and public policy priority,” the statement said.

“Today’s announcement matches our members’ accelerated commitment in this region,” the statement continued. “We look forward to working with the new Congress and new administration to build on today’s announcement by developing and implementing a holistic approach that provides all stakeholders a clear, effective, and enforceable path forward on reaching our shared goal – ending forced labor and the larger campaign of oppression it fuels.”