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More Detention Orders Expected on Imports Made with Forced Labour

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske told the Senate Finance Committee on 11 May that CBP expects to issue more detention orders on imported goods suspected of being made with forced labour. Mr. Kerlikowske also provided an update on the agency’s implementation of the recently enacted Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act.

19 USC 1307 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labour, including forced child labour. Effective 10 March the TFTEA closed a loophole in this law that had allowed imports of goods made with forced labour if they were not produced domestically in such quantities as to meet consumptive demands. When information reasonably but not conclusively indicates that goods within the purview of 19 USC 1307 are being imported, CBP may issue withhold release orders requiring detention of those goods at all U.S. ports of entry.

CBP has acted on this new authority twice already, issuing WROs on certain viscose/rayon fibre, soda ash, calcium chloride and potassium products from mainland China, and Mr. Kerlikowske told committee members to expect more such actions in the future. CBP is taking a number of steps in that direction, he said, including establishing a new 24-member task force focusing on this issue, working to place more agents in other countries, reaching out to non-governmental organisations to find leads, and co-operating with State Department personnel posted overseas to monitor forced labour and other issues. Mr. Kerlikowske added that CBP expects to be proactive in issuing WROs when warranted by the information gathered from these sources, noting that the standard for reasonable suspicion is “pretty low.” It will up to importers to appeal such orders if they believe them to be in error, he said.

Mr. Kerlikowske spoke on other types of trade enforcement as well, stating that they are all based on trade intelligence and advance risk-based targeting and that the ten Centers of Excellence and Expertise are a “key element in CBP’s trade intelligence and targeting efforts.” He said that one of the primary objectives of the virtually-managed Centers, all of which are now operational, is to further strengthen CBP’s knowledge about industry practices and that they are redefining how CBP works collaboratively with industry members to understand trade risks.

Other topics the commissioner addressed at the hearing include the following.

  • CBP plans to issue by late August an interim final rule on implementing provisions of the TFTEA concerning forced labour, intellectual property rights information sharing with rights holders, enhanced authorities to combat the evasion of antidumping and countervailing duties, and minimum standards for customs brokers and importers regarding importer identity verification.
  • CBP is on track to deliver all core trade processing capabilities in the Automated Commercial Environment by 31 December.
  • The Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism now has more than 11,000 members and C-C-TPAT imports account for 54 percent (by value) of all U.S. imports.
  • CBP has signed supply chain security mutual recognition arrangements with New Zealand, the European Union, South Korea, Japan, Jordan, Canada, Taiwan, Israel, Mexico and Singapore and is continuing to work toward MRAs with mainland China, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, India and other countries.
  • The Air Cargo Advance Screening pilot has 51 participants and will run through July, after which CBP will work to identify a path toward permanent status.
  • CBP is working with major e-commerce businesses to identify and prevent the sale and import of counterfeit or dangerous products.
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