In keeping with a pledge under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canada amended its Customs Tariff Act to ban forced labor imports on July 1, 2020. In these almost two years, however, Canadian border guards have seized only one shipment of clothing from China suspected of being manufactured with forced labor.
The Globe and Mail analyze the reasons why Canada is not making sufficient efforts to combat forced labor and details the differences between Canada’s regulations and those of the United States. Activists and specialists urge Canada to ask the United States, which has more funding for law enforcement, to share its information.
The numbers of the forced labor-tainted trade in the United States
Since the USMCA went into effect, according to data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) itself, more than 1,300 shipments from Xinjiang presumed to have been made by slave labor have already been seized. Of those seizures, 811 shipments were cotton and tomato, and 511 shipments were products manufactured by Hoshine Silicon Industry Co. Ltda, a company based in the Uyghur Region that produces one of the key materials for solar panels.
The combined value of all seizures is 209 million USD. In addition, for the fiscal year 2021 – which runs from October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021 – 1,400 shipments of forced-labor goods from various countries around the world were also seized.
Lack of funding in Canada to stop slave labor
Trade experts claim that the gap in controls between the two countries cannot be attributed simply to the higher volume of trade between the United States and China. Rather, the Canadian government is not taking strong enough action nor is it investing resources to enforce the new law, nor is it adequately managing information collection. The federal government committed to seriously addressing this last point as early as January 2021.
The article highlights a statement by Michael Nesbitt, a law professor at the University of Calgary who previously worked in the federal government’s sanctions division. He notes:
“It will not be surprising to see Canada’s dismal record of enforcement of sanctions regimes, the forced labor and prison labor ban, and other such restrictions, continue.”
In addition, Toronto-based international trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak adds that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) lacks enough staff to actively determine which companies might be involved in forced labor, and that Canada has not dedicated resources to either its customs or its federal police to these issues.
“It doesn’t seem to be a priority because they are not allocating the resources required so there [would be] people doing the work to be able to spot these transactions,” she said.
From the Canada Border Services Agency, spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy stated, “Canada is still in the early stages of implementing the forced-labor prohibition,” while the United States has had a law prohibiting such imports since 1930. She said that various government departments are working on the “effective operationalization of the ban” and talking to foreign partners.
Differences between Canadian and U.S. regulations
In the United States, the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act has a “reverse-onus” rule that places the onus on those shipping goods from Xinjiang to demonstrate that these items are free of forced labor. That means that the U.S. government officially considers all goods “produced in whole or in part” in Xinjiang to be produced with forced labor and “therefore prohibited from importation.”
In Canada, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials can only prohibit goods if there is proof that imports are tainted by slave or prison labor. That means they are required to treat shipments “on a case-by-case basis, based on the available information at the time of entry.”
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