On 13 January 2021, US Customs and Border Protection issued a region-wide Withhold Release Order (WRO) prohibiting all imports of cotton and tomato products from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang) in response to forced labour concerns. This WRO, which is effective immediately, also extends to imports containing cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang. As a result, this WRO will have a wide-reaching impact affecting imports such as apparel, textiles, tomato seeds, canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce.
This WRO is part of a broader US government policy to increase pressure on the Chinese Communist Party for its reported widespread human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
The 13 January WRO will have a wide-reaching impact on the US supply chain, particularly for the apparel and food sectors. First, like all WROs, this WRO not only applies to imports of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang, but also to any products that might incorporate those goods. Second, this WRO is noteworthy because it applies regionally to Xinjiang, as opposed to a specific manufacturer. CBP has previously claimed that the agency acts on information concerning specific manufacturers/exporters and specific merchandise but “does not generally target entire product lines or industries in problematic countries or regions.”
CBP will detain any imports suspected of violating this WRO. In order to obtain release of the goods, importers will have to demonstrate to CBP that the goods were not produced with forced labour. CBP requires a high evidentiary standard, which is challenging to meet.
US importers are responsible for ensuring their imports do not violate Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 at any point in the supply chain. So, they will have to conduct a thorough risk analysis of their supply chains to determine whether any of the banned products from Xinjiang. Imports from any country that are suspected of potentially containing cotton or tomato products from China are at risk of detention by CBP