U.S. Considering Action on Chinese Textiles and Apparel That Would Affect Tens of Billions of Dollars in Imports
There’s reason to believe that the Trump Administration could place a Withhold Release Order on textile and apparel products from China, citing concerns over forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region.
Speaking to reporters from the South China Morning Post and Politico, textile industry sources and a former Trump Administration trade official say that the decision could come as early as next week, and would bring a shock to not only imported textiles but the U.S. textile industry, too.
Should U.S. Customs and Border Protection make the call, the sources claim that it could affect tens of billions of dollars worth of imported textile and clothing. This would cover cotton, yarn and fabric made in facilities in the Xinjian Uighur Autonomous Region, which has been the subject of scrutiny for a while now as international critics say the Muslim minority group has been essentially working as slave laborers.
In the U.S., the move could bring back the familiar back-and-forth of tariffs and retaliatory moves from Beijing.
There’s an important distinction to make between a Withhold Release Order and an outright ban. The ban is much more of a sweeping block. The WRO, however, would require a bit more diligence. Products will arrive to the U.S., but if the CBP authorities find that it was made with forced labor, it would be re-exported or destroyed.
Multiple big-name companies have sourced their materials from the Xinjiang region. Perhaps most notably is Apple, which was the subject of scrutiny after a watchdog group traced its retail employee uniforms to factories in the region. Apple disputed the claim, saying that its apparel wasn’t actually made within the factories, but it’s still a little murky. Some schools and universities have also pulled sportswear items from their shelves after they found that the products were sourced from factories in Xinjiang.
The Xinjiang region is where the vast majority of China’s cotton supply is grown. It’s also home to the region’s Uighur Muslim minority. Radio Free Asia has estimated that at least 120,000 people have been detained in re-education camps. Tens of thousands of Uighur are reportedly working in these factories manufacturing apparel items for brands like Nike. Activist groups say that escaping the work environments is “extremely difficult,” with constant looming threats of “arbitrary detention.”
If the U.S. makes the decision to put the WRO on Chinese textile and apparel imports, it would be a very real mark of disapproval and show of commitment to stopping human rights abuses. Economically speaking, it would almost certainly be met with backlash from Beijing, based on the two countries’ track record with each other.
But it would be a next logical step for the U.S. in its fight against human rights abuses, as the U.S. Commerce Department has already placed almost 50 Chinese factories on its list of businesses and facilities using unethical practices. According to the SCMP, that distinction alone practically bans them from working with U.S. companies unless they get a special license to do so.
We'll monitor this situation as it develops.