Customs officials put a dollar figure to their border enforcement actions

While solar advocates have cheered a recent slew of project announcements that herald a possible domestic manufacturing revival, U.S. border officials offered a glimpse into the volume of imports from China that is being detained by recent enforcement actions.

In a press release summing up its August activities, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said it targeted 838 entries valued at more than $266.5 million. The action was related to suspected use of forced labor in the production of imported goods, including goods subject to the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) and Withhold Release Orders (WRO).

Mixed together in that total are probably agricultural goods such as cotton and tomatoes. But a portion likely includes solar modules that have been targeted for scrutiny for more than a year by a combination of federal law and recent border action.

The CBP press release offers a rare glimpse into the volume of imports detained at border entry points. The agency did not respond to a request for details on the breakdown of goods it targeted during August. And the Solar Energy Industries Association said it lacked visibility into the volume of solar modules that may have been detained.

But last spring, CPB sent letters warning that enforcement of the federal UFLPA, which was signed into law last December, could begin as early as June 21. And while CBP had earlier used the WRO to detain solar modules at border entry points and prevent others from entering the U.S., it reportedly had not yet issued penalties.

The letters, which were sent in May from Thomas Overacker, executive director of CBP’s Cargo and Conveyance Security office, put importers on notice that they “are expected to review their supply chains thoroughly and institute reliable measures to ensure imported goods are not produced wholly or in part with convict labor, forced labor, and/or indentured labor.”

UFLPA established what is referred to as a rebuttable presumption that any “goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured” wholly or in part in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China may not be brought into the U.S.

The Act expanded a WRO that CBP officials issued in late June 2021. The WRO was based on credible evidence that forced labor may have been used in supply chains for a variety of products, including some solar modules. The action was taken in line with U.S. laws that date from the 1930s aimed at addressing forced labor that may be used to produce imported goods.

Officials in Beijing have denied that forced labor exists within China. A series of laws carry penalties on Chinese companies that cooperate with foreign efforts to trace allegations of forced labor.

The WRO places the burden of proof on importers to provide documentation that no forced labor exists anywhere in their supply chain, even as far upstream as the mines that are used to extract source material. Lacking even grudging cooperation from Beijing, however, complete documentation may be difficult to produce.

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Author: David Wagman

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