US President Joe Biden signed into law a bill last night that bans imports from China’s Xinjiang region over concerns about forced labour. The White House explained that the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act was part of the US pushback against Beijing’s treatment of China’s Uyghur Muslim minority, which Washington has labelled genocide.
The bill had passed Congress earlier this month after lawmakers reached a compromise between the house and senate versions.
A key to the legislation signed by Biden is a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang, where Beijing has established detention camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim groups, are made using forced labour. It bars imports unless it can be proven otherwise.
Goods such as cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon used in solar-panel manufacturing are designated “high priority” for enforcement action.
China denies abuses in Xinjiang, a major cotton producer that also supplies much of the world’s materials for solar panels. The Washington embassy in Beijing did not respond to a request for comment.
Nury Turkel, the Uyghur-American vice-chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, told Reuters this month the bill’s effectiveness would depend on the willingness of Biden’s administration to ensure it is effective, especially when companies seek waivers.
One of the bill’s co-authors, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, said it was necessary to “send a resounding and unequivocal message against genocide and slave labour.”
“Now… we can finally ensure that American consumers and businesses can buy goods without inadvertent complicity in China’s horrific human rights abuses,” he said in a statement before Biden put his stamp of approval on the bill.
In its final days in January, the Donald Trump administration had announced a ban on all Xinjiang cotton and tomato products. The US Customs and Border Protection agency estimated then that about $ 9 billion of cotton products and $ 10 million of tomato products were imported from China in the past year.