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New Import Detention Order Targets Tuna on Forced Labor Concerns

Friday, February 08, 2019
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued a withhold release order against certain tuna and tuna products based on information indicating that it is harvested with the use of forced labor. Effective Feb. 4 this order requires the detention at all U.S. ports of entry of “tuna and any such merchandise manufactured wholly or in part by the [fishing vessel] Tunago No. 61,” which is owned by a company located in Vanuatu. Importers of detained shipments are provided an opportunity to export their goods or demonstrate that they were not produced with forced labor.

19 USC 1307 prohibits the importation of goods mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, in any foreign country by forced labor, including convict labor, forced child labor, and indentured labor. Such goods are subject to exclusion and/or seizure and may lead to criminal investigation of the importer. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 closed a loophole in this law that had allowed imports of certain forced labor-produced goods if they were not produced domestically in such quantities as to meet consumptive demands.

When information reasonably but not conclusively indicates that goods within the purview of 19 USC 1307 are being imported, CBP may issue withhold release orders. If CBP is provided with information sufficient to make a determination that the goods in question are subject to this provision it will publish a formal finding to that effect in the Customs Bulletin and Decisions and the Federal Register. No such finding has yet been published for subject tuna and tuna products.

CBP has said that it acts on information concerning specific manufacturers, exporters, and goods and does not generally target entire product lines or industries in problematic countries or regions. CBP also does not generally publicize specific detentions, re-exportations, exclusions, or seizures that may have resulted from its withhold release orders or findings.

CBP encourages stakeholders to closely examine their supply chains to ensure that imported goods are not mined, produced, or manufactured, wholly or in part, with prohibited forms of labor; i.e., slave, convict, forced child, or indentured labor. A list of all CBP withhold release orders and findings is available here.

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