The organisation say it is important to acknowledge input from all parties and coordinated efforts with importers for effective enforcement.

The American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA), the National Retail Federation (NRF), the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), and the United States Fashion Industry Association (USFIA) are calling on DHS to partner with its associations and associations’ members for a “successful enforcement plan.”

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They said: “Many of our members are Tier 3 participants in Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). They are trusted traders and meet the high standards required to receive that designation by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and DHS. Our members are on the front lines for ensuring that they have safe and secure supply chains.”

According to these organisations, this enforcement plan should include input from all stakeholders, ensure clear communication with the trade, and facilitate coordinated activities with imports, especially when DHS identifies illicit trade activities within the supply chain.

These organisations emphasised the importance of sharing results of any “illicit activities” so that its members and other imports can act quickly to address the issue.

They further suggested that as its members look to diversify their supply chains, especially back to the Western Hemisphere, efforts should be included to “incentivise and not deter” new investments.

The organisations shared their commitment to working with DHS and the key agencies to ensure these enhanced enforcement activities are successful in stopping illicit shipments while facilitating compliant trade.

Meanwhile, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) CEO Kim Glas welcomed the announcement from Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as a “critical step to combatting import fraud and circumvention of free trade agreement rules and trade laws”.

She added the plan outlines pillars and action items that are essential to improving customs enforcement in response to a wide range of illegal trade practices, as well as fraudulent activities that are worsening the economic crisis facing the US textile industry.

“The essential and vital domestic textile supply chain has lost 14 plants in recent months. The industry is facing severe economic harm due to a combination of factors, exacerbated by customs fraud and predatory trade practices by China and other countries, which has resulted in these devastating layoffs and plant closures. DHS immediately understood the economic harms facing the industry and deployed the development of a critical action plan.

“We encourage CBP to continue doing the necessary onsite and other verifications to curb rampant fraud and circumvention of FTA and forced labour trade laws. This intensified enforcement will lead to more transparency in textile and apparel supply chains, which support 500,000 U.S. textile workers and 2m workers in co-production partnerships within the Western Hemisphere.

“It’s critical these ongoing actions are backed up by strong civil and criminal penalties to act as a deterrent to bad actors who have been circumventing rules and trade laws and harming US textile and apparel producers as well as our Western Hemisphere trade partners. Punishing the bad actors quickly and amplifying these penalties are essential measures to deterring the illegal trade that is undermining this essential sector.

“We also urge Congress, without delay, to pass critically needed comprehensive de minimis reform legislation, given the urgency of the situation and the economic harm this loophole is causing.”

The fingerprint of the new strategy

DHS recently unveiled an enhanced strategy to combat illicit trade and level the playing field for the American textile industry, which accounts for over 500,000 US jobs and is reportedly critical for national security.

As part of the strategy, two of DHS’ agencies, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), will further enhance their work together to protect the integrity of the markets, hold perpetrators accountable for customs violations, and safeguard the American textile industry.

DHS pointed out that this plan will serve as the blueprint for future strengthened enforcement efforts through intensified targeting of small package shipments; joint trade special operations; increased customs audits and foreign verifications; and the expansion of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA) Entity List.

The new enforcement plan focuses on the following actions:

  • Cracking down on small package shipments to prohibit illicit goods from US markets by improving screening of packages claiming the Section 321 de minimis exemption for textile, UFLPA, and other violations, including expanded targeting, laboratory and isotopic testing, and focused enforcement operations.
  • Conducting joint CBP-HSI trade special operations to ensure cargo compliance. This includes physical inspections; country-of-origin, isotopic, and composition testing; and in-depth reviews of documentation. CBP will issue civil penalties for violations of US laws and coordinate with HSI to develop and conduct criminal investigations when warranted.
  • Better assessing risk by expanding customs audits and increasing foreign verifications. DHS personnel will conduct comprehensive audits and textile production verification team visits to high-risk foreign facilities to ensure that textiles qualify under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) or the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).
  • Building stakeholder awareness by engaging in an education campaign to ensure that importers and suppliers in the CAFTA-DR and USMCA region understand compliance requirements and are aware of CBP’s enforcement efforts.
  • Leveraging US and Central American industry partnerships to improve facilitation for legitimate trade.
  • Expanding the UFLPA Entity List to identify malign suppliers for the trade community through review of additional entities in the high-priority textile sector for inclusion in the UFLPA Entity List.

Secretary of US Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas believes that the textile industry, like other industries, suffers when competitors use forced labour, violate customs laws, and engage in other illegal practices to undercut US businesses and drive prices unfairly low.

He said: “We are dedicated to ensuring a fair and level playing field for American businesses. Through strengthened enforcement measures, enhanced inspection and testing, and increased information sharing, this Administration is protecting thousands of American workers and the US textile industry.”

Mayorkas had initially committed to this 30-day immediate textile enforcement action plan to tackle unfair trade practices, stressing its importance in safeguarding the longevity of the country’s domestic sector.

DHS said it has already begun implementation of this plan, building on ongoing efforts to ensure compliance.

Moreover, last month US vice president Kamala Harris announced a new initiative between the US and Guatemala to advance secure trade in textiles and apparel by encouraging engagement, including with existing government-to-industry stakeholder partnerships such as CBP’s Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism Program and the Superintendence of Tax Administration of Guatemala’s Authorised Economic Operator Program.