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The industries hit hardest by a US ban on imports from Xinjiang

A worker is seen in Youngor's cotton spinning factory, in Aksu, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region
Reuters/Dominique Patton
A cotton spinning factory in Xinjiang.
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On June 21, the US will begin enforcing a ban on goods from Xinjiang, a major manufacturing hub and the site of extensive alleged human rights violations against the region’s Uyghur minority.

The ban is a culmination of trade restrictions that have been building for years around the issue of human rights in Xinjiang. Last year, Congress unanimously passed the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, increasing enforcement mechanisms and pulling together previous bans, like ones on tomatoes and cotton put in place by the Trump administration. The law takes a “rebuttable presumption” that all goods from Xinjiang were made using forced labor, and in recent weeks, the US government has indicated tough enforcement to prevent the entry of goods that have been produced, partially or in whole, in Xinjiang. China angrily denies the accusations.

The ban has the potential of reshaping trade relations between the US and China as it ratchets up tensions between the two countries. There’s a risk it could lead to retaliatory actions from China, as well as lower trade volumes.

Which goods are targeted by the Xinjiang ban?

The law designates some goods as “high priority” for enforcement action, including cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon, used in manufacturing solar panels. As China’s center for cotton industry, much of the fashion and footwear produced in China, including in manufacturing hubs outside Xinjiang, have supply chains that link back to the region. Toys, electronics, and plastics are also produced in Xinjiang.

So far, the Biden administration has released few details on how the ban will be enforced, and which other goods among the $500 billion of imports from China may be affected as the ban may ensnare goods manufactured outside Xinjiang, but using components produced there. While the ban has the potential to severely disrupt supply chains and exacerbate existing shortages and inflation, the extent will depend on the severity of enforcement.

Are there any exceptions to the Xinjiang ban?

Companies can apply for an exemption to the ban, but the Biden administration has stated there will be a very high bar to prove that products have no links to forced labor. Imports deemed by customs to be subject to the ban will be turned away at the border and importers can opt to ship the cargo back to China.

Some companies lobbied unsuccessfully for a slower roll-out of the ban, or for the government to look the other way if the products only have a minimal connection to Xinjiang, according to Bloomberg, though few did so publicly at the risk of being labeled as supporters of forced labor.

The US accuses China of vast forced labor violations, widespread detention and genocide of Xinjiang’s Uyghur minority.

For its part, China has bristled at the accusations and sees the ban as an attack on its economy. At a press briefing in Beijing last week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian warned that, “If the act is implemented, it will severely disrupt normal cooperation between China and the US, and global industrial and production chains.”

The Chinese foreign ministry has warned Washington not to implement the law, and “if the US insists on doing so, China will take robust measures to uphold its own rights and interests as well as its dignity,” Zhao said.

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