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USA: finally no ban on Chinese tomato products

15/09/2020 - François-Xavier Branthôme
U.S. pulls back from broad import bans for tomato products from Xinjiang

President Donald Trump’s administration is ratcheting up pressure on China over its treatment of Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, where the United Nations cites credible reports as saying 1 million Muslims held in camps have been put to work.

The Trump administration on Monday (Sept. 14) shelved plans for a broad import ban on cotton and tomato products from China’s Xinjiang region while announcing narrower bans on products from five specific entities.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acting Deputy Secretary Kenneth Cuccinelli said the new “Withhold Release Orders” (WROs) on cotton, textiles, apparel, hair products and computer parts are aimed at combating China’s use of forced labor by detained Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. 
The tomato ban, and those on other imports, would have been an unprecedented move. It would very likely also be detrimental to the relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
In fact, it appears that concerns about the broad orders and their effect on supply chains were raised by officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. China had agreed to buy increased quantities of U.S. cotton under the countries’ Phase 1 trade deal, which could be put at risk by a U.S. ban on imports from China’s dominant cotton-producing region. But Cuccinelli said it was legal concerns, not trade, that prompted the need for more study of the region-wide import bans.
The Withhold Release Orders allow U.S. Customs and Border Protection to detain shipments based on suspicion of forced-labor involvement.

A China-based cotton trader said any expansion of the ban to make it regional would be bad for business. “It will disrupt supply chains and contribute to a worsening situation between the U.S. and China and less trust,” he said.

Some complementary data
Over the past ten years, China's annual exports of tomato paste to the US have averaged no more than 1,600 metric tonnes; this figure represents less than 0.2% of Chinese foreign sales. The effect of a ban on this sector would necessarily remain limited in economic terms for the Chinese industry, for modest quantities that US operators would have no difficulty in supplying from other sources.

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