A bill banning the import of goods from China’s Xinjiang region came into force on Tuesday, marking a significant escalation in Washington’s economic sanctions against Beijing.
President Biden signed the Uygur Forced Labour Prevention Act into law in December 2021. The legislation was passed through Congress over allegations China is practicing forces labor in Xinjiang using Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in the region, a charge Beijing denies.
The law creates a presumption that any goods sourced wholly or partly from Xinjiang have been produced with forced labor. US companies can appeal the ban if they can show “clear and convincing” evidence that their supply chains are free of forced labor, but US officials have said they set a “high bar” for appeals.
Doug Barry, the senior director of communications for the US-China Business Council, told The South China Morning Post that the requirements for exemptions are impossible to fulfill since independent audits aren’t available for the region. “The law will essentially act as a trade embargo against goods with input from Xinjiang,” Barry said.
The Post reported Monday that the looming ban already crippled China’s cotton industry before taking effect as potential buyers were already scared off from sourcing goods from the region. “Xinjiang cotton used to be the most expensive cotton in the world. Now it has become the cheapest, and still no one buys it,” the owner of a cotton-ginning mill said.
The import ban was overwhelmingly approved by Congress, with Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) being the only lawmaker that voted against the bill, demonstrating the bipartisan support for ramping up economic pressure on China. The legislation was lobbied against major US corporations that do business in Xinjiang, including Nike and Coca-Cola, but the pressure wasn’t enough to stop the bill.
The US is pressuring its allies to also ban goods from Xinjiang. “We are rallying our allies and partners to make global supply chains free from the use of forced labor, to speak out against atrocities in Xinjiang, and to join us in calling on the government of the PRC to immediately end atrocities and human rights abuses, including forced labor,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on the implementation of the ban.
Allegations of forced labor in Xinjiang first surfaced after President Trump launched his trade war against China. Most of the claims can be traced back to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a think tank whose funders include the Pentagon, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.