Congress passes ban on imports made with Uyghur forced labor

Congress passes ban on imports made with Uyghur forced labor

The Senate on Thursday gave final approval to a bipartisan bill to crack down on imports from China‘s Xinjiang region, where Beijing is accused of using forced labor.

The bill now goes to President Biden, who is expected to sign it.

“Many companies have already taken steps to clean up their supply chains. And, frankly, they should have no concerns about this law,” Sen. Marco Rubio, the bill’s sponsor, said on the Senate floor.

“For those who have not done that, they’ll no longer be able to continue to make Americans — every one of us, frankly — unwitting accomplices in the atrocities, in the genocide that’s being committed by the Chinese Communist Party,” said the Florida Republican.

The vote capped a series of obstacles for the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which authorizes sanctions against companies that facilitate the forced labor of Muslim minority groups, including Uyghurs, in Xinjiang. It also prohibits imports from the region unless Customs and Border Protection determines that no forced labor was used in production.

The ban threatens to shake up trade for products such as apparel and electronics.

It could pose a challenge to U.S.-based solar panel manufacturers. Close to half of the world’s supply of polysilicon, a key input to solar cells, is manufactured in Xinjiang, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The U.S. solar industry has taken several steps to trace its supply chain, standing up a “Supply Chain Traceability Protocol” to help manufactures understand where key inputs to finished panels come from.

The Xinjiang region is also a key global exporter of electronics and agricultural goods including cotton and tomatoes.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection in January banned all U.S. imports of cotton and tomato products produced in Xinjiang.

The House unanimously passed the bill Tuesday after the bill’s sponsor — Mr. Rubio and Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat — reached an agreement on the final text.

Most in Washington had expected the bill to move quickly through the Senate and to Mr. Biden’s desk on Wednesday. But in a last-minute move, Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, stopped the vote Wednesday in a bid to extend President Biden’s child tax credit that’s been making direct monthly payments of up to $300 per child to parents as part of COVID-19 relief.

The tax credit expires at the end of the year.

The bipartisan measure to address China‘s widely-condemned treatment of Uyghur Muslims has caused several other legislative dust-ups.

Earlier this month, Mr. Rubio blocked progress on the annual defense policy bill when Democrats removed Uyghur measures at the last minute.

In July, the Senate unanimously passed a version of the bill for inclusion in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would have forced the House to take up the measure.

Democrats objected that the amendment would cause a “blue slip” problem, a procedural matter that requires legislation that raises revenue to originate in the House.

The House ultimately passed a standalone version by an overwhelming margin, only to see the final passage derailed by Mr. Wyden.

Mr. Wyden pulled his amendment on Thursday, and the bill received unanimous consent.

“This legislation is long overdue – it’s past time we hold the CCP accountable for its ongoing internment and oppression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China,” said Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Our actions today show the world the United States is united in its efforts to combat crimes against humanity and systematic genocide,” he said. “Companies and businesses in the United States should not participate, or profit, from goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang, and this legislation will help ensure those imports do not enter our marketplace.”

Separately on Thursday, the Biden Administration announced that it is imposing new sanctions on several Chinese firms and government entities for their involvement in the alleged atrocities in Xinjiang province as the White House steps up efforts to curb human rights abuses carried out against Uyghur Muslims.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.