Congressional lawmakers are scrutinizing customs enforcement of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, passed last year, expressing concern that goods tied to forced labor have slipped into the U.S.
Leaders of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China last week noted in a letter that “we remain concerned that Congress lacks sufficient information and transparency” about how effectively the law is being enforced.
The letter, sent to Robert Silvers, under secretary for strategy and policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, noted commission members have learned that "nearly 300 cargo shipments were stopped and later released" by U.S. Customs and Border Protection because the importer claimed they weren't subject to the law.
In testimony for a hearing this week, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon and co-chair of the congressional China commission, said that the law “put businesses on notice that they can no longer claim it’s too difficult to trace their supply chains.”
Merkley added that the CBP “now devotes unprecedented attention to investigating those supply chains and stopping problematic imports.”
Yet the China commission members have also questioned the agency on its enforcement practices and potential loopholes.
The UFLPA bans imports of goods that that are manufactured or contain parts from the the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region or from entities involved in what is known as forced labor transfers from the region.
“Compliance with this law requires a paradigm shift,” Merkley said in testimony. “It requires companies to be vigilant in the same way we expect them to guard against bribery and corruption and money laundering.”
The potential that goods tied to forced labor could still be entering the United States calls for more transparency and clarity from Border Patrol, according to policymakers' letter. Lawmakers asked in the letter “why goods stopped based on evidence of a link to the XUAR or labor transfer programs outside the XUAR are being cleared without congressional or public reporting.”
According to CBP data, the agency has denied 490 shipments out of 3,588 that were subject to review under the UFLPA, while releasing 1,323 shipments.
In the letter, the China commission members also pushed Silvers and the task force to expand the entity list that CBP uses in looking for ties to forced Uyghur and enforcing the UFLPA.
The commission also scrutinized the treatment of “de minimis shipments,” or shipments under $800 that can enter the country duty-free and without formal filing with customs. According to a policy paper last week by the committee, the number of de minimis packages from China have increased by nearly 275 million between 2018 and 2022 with the rise of e-commerce.
In the letter to Silvers, the lawmakers noted news reports about the Chinese fashion companies Shein and Temu and use of de minimis shipments, which they wrote “raise concerns about direct-to-consumer purchases.”
The letter’s signers asked for more information about CBP’s enforcement of UFPLA when it comes to de minimis shipments and noted that they were considering legislative actions to “address this loophole.”