The letter by a group of US senators including Ron Wyden, Bill Cassidy, Tim Kaine, Thom Tillis, Mark Warner, Lindsey Graham, Sherrod Brown, and Tim Scott, highlighted concerns about the potential impact on American livelihoods and Central American partners due to the reported closures of textile and apparel mills in the US.

The senators expressed the view that effective customs enforcement is critical for maintaining a fair and mutually beneficial trade environment, particularly in the context of trade agreements such as the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). These agreements are designed to foster fair trade, uphold high standards, and promote economic growth.

It was said that the insufficient enforcement of trade preferences can lead to Xinjiang cotton infiltrating regional supply chains and undermining the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA).

The letter went on to say that robust enforcement of origin and content rules in US trade agreements and a ban on forced labour is crucial for securing supply chains.

The senators drew attention to the decline in CBP’s textile trade enforcement activities, citing a significant reduction in on-site trade preference verifications since 2018.

Concern was expressed about this decline and stressed the need for increased oversight to prevent circumvention of rules of origin and to counter the infiltration of banned Xinjiang cotton into the supply chain.

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The senators called for a commitment from CBP to prioritise textile enforcement related to CAFTA-DR and USMCA in the coming year. They proposed specific actions, including:

  • A significant increase in on-site and surprise verifications of textile facilities in the regions covered by these agreements,
  • Technical assistance and information sharing with customs authorities in partner countries to root out materials made with forced labour or country of origin labelling concerns that may be bound to the US,
  •  Improved targeting of illicit shipments through enhanced reporting mechanisms such as a Spanish language version of e-allegation and getting the government, companies, and NGOs in the region to share information regarding the reporting portal,
  • Conducting a comprehensive review of existing enforcement authorities and penalties for textiles and apparel. Developing a strategic plan outlining how CBP will maximise its tools and resources to ensure full compliance with CAFTA-DR, USMCA, and other relevant trade rules.

The letter stated that CAFTA-DR and USMCA have facilitated a robust regional textiles and apparel supply chain, benefiting both the US and its Central American partners.

The senators emphasised the importance of upholding the agreed-upon obligations to ensure the success of these trade agreements.

Last week (10 November), deputy assistant secretary for textiles & apparel at the US Department of Commerce, Jennifer Knight, revealed the “co-production” fashion supply chain is the new focus for the US with the CAFTA-DR region being well positioned to grow its fashion sourcing market share.