A private membership proposal to block all imports from China’s Xinjiang region was introduced in the Senate on Wednesday as Canada discusses how to stop forced labor from entering that country.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that, during the year since Canada amended its customs law to ban the import of such products, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has only intercepted a shipment from China, determined to have done so by forced labor. It happened last month.
Senator Leo Housakos presented the bill, S-204, which proposes that all imports from Xinjiang in northwest China be blocked. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups, citing leaked Chinese government documents and testimonies from prisoners, say Uighurs and other Turkish minorities have been subjected to forced labor as part of China’s plan to control the Uighur population in the region.
Mr Housakos, who represents Quebec in the Senate, said he was frustrated that Canada had done little to capture goods produced by forced labor from China. “In a year and a half, they have only confiscated one container,” he said. In 2018, Canada signed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to the North American Free Trade Agreement. As part of the new treaty, Canada promised to stop the import of forced labor products. It adopted the ban in mid-2020.
Mr Housakos said his proposed geographical ban would make the job easier for border officials, who have to inspect millions of products every year.
Separately, a legal objection will be heard on December 6 in the federal court in Ottawa as to whether the CBSA has the power to block all imports from Xinjiang on the assumption that they are done by forced labor unless importers can prove otherwise. Earlier this year, the authority informed a refugee group, the plaintiff, that it lacked the power to do so.
The Canadians in Support of Refugees in Dire Need, a group whose members include former MP David Kilgour, brought legal action this year after the CBSA said it had no legal authority to impose a presumptive ban on products from a region. The Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project has been granted intervener status in the case.
Xinjiang produces a fifth of the world’s cotton, and researchers and critics say the Chinese government has committed serious human rights abuses there. China is also the world’s largest producer of tomatoes, with much of its production from Xinjiang.
The United States has introduced a “reverse onus” ban, which means that certain categories of goods from the region – such as cotton or tomatoes – are banned unless importers can prove that they are not tainted by forced labor.
International trade lawyers said that Canada’s obligations under the World Trade Organization would, as a general rule, prevent the country from restricting imports from a particular region of China.
However, Canada may impose some form of import restriction under its Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA) under certain conditions. SEMA allows the government to apply unilateral sanctions where “gross and systematic violations of human rights have been committed in a foreign state” or where “a serious violation of international peace and security has occurred which has resulted in or is likely to result in a serious international crisis.”
Canada used SEMA to block imports from Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, which Russia illegally seized and annexed in 2014. And this still exists. This measure prohibits any person in Canada and any Canadian outside of Canada from “importing, buying, acquiring, shipping or otherwise trading in goods, wherever they are, that are exported from the Crimean region.”
Toronto lawyer John Boscariol, head of McCarthy Tétrault’s trade and investment group, said banning all imports in whole or in part in Xinjiang “would be a very aggressive move on the part of Canada and go far beyond our US, UK and UK counterparts. The EU has done. “
Toronto Trade Attorney Cyndee Todgham Cherniak said the CBSA could stop imports from Xinjiang today and asked importers to show that they were not made out of forced labor. “My view is that the CBSA has the power; they just do not,” she said, noting that the agency regularly stops goods leaving Canada and asks for proof that they do not require an export permit.
The Globe reported last week that Lululemon, the official outfitter for Team Canada at the 2022 Olympics, is among dozens of international brands and retailers at risk of having cotton produced by Chinese forced labor in their supply chains. A new report from the British Sheffield Hallam University analyzed links to the supply chain identified through freight registers to show how cotton from the Uigur region circumvents delivery standards and import bans to end up on clothes racks around the world.
With a report from Reuters
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