By Mara Lee, International Trade Today

NEW YORK -- CBP Executive Assistant Commissioner AnnMarie Highsmith, who leads the Office of Trade, told an audience of apparel professionals that CBP will be providing "some additional resources" on Nov. 16 to comply with the ban on importing goods made with forced labor. She didn't say what those are, but the comment came immediately after she said that the Department of Homeland Security will be continuing to update the entity list of firms connected to China's Xinjiang region.

Highsmith spoke at the Nov. 10 Apparel Importers Trade and Transportation Conference hosted by the U.S. Fashion Industry Association. She told attendees: "Y’all are doing a tremendous job of tracing your supply chains." She said the enforcement numbers and targeting numbers show "the effectiveness of what you're doing."

Highsmith noted that with the help of a civil society group, forced labor at an apparel factory in India was remediated this summer, and the practices there are spreading to other factories.

"Remediation is a big part of what we’re looking to do," she said.

She acknowledged that cotton apparel importers may not feel that confident about their ability to avoid Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act or withhold release order actions, because they don't have 100% visibility into their supply chains.

"I wish we had a silver bullet," she said. "I wish someone would invent the wand I can wave over the box, green for go, red for forced labor."

But she said it's possible that DNA testing of cotton will get CBP and companies closer to that "magic wand," and noted that CBP got $5 million for its labs specifically for DNA technology development in UFLPA.

She said that CBP uses genetic fingerprinting regularly for saffron and other agricultural products, and that CBP is trying to figure out if it can be scaled for the volume of cotton and cotton-blend imports, and if it can be done at a cost "that makes it worthwhile. Hope to have more for you -- very soon -- on that."

Highsmith said, "We will not be treating the folks that are trying to comply like the folks who are trying to cheat," and she encouraged importers to reach out to the apparel center of excellence.

"If that merchandise gets on the water, and you think, 'Oh, I might have a problem with this,' reach out ahead of time," she advised. "We do regularly review the documents before the merchandise arrives." She said CBP recently cleared a shipment within two days, even though it had a complex supply chain, because the importer sent documentation ahead of time.

She said CBP is committed -- she repeated the word twice, for emphasis -- to working with industry "in whatever way we can to aid in this compliance."

"We know that you are doing your best. But I know more information is key," she said. "You want to know what I know and I want to know what you know."

She said CBP will post on its website forced labor enforcement statistics, broken down by industry, with the total number of entries and the value of those entries that were detained. She said the data will be updated quarterly. She said it will be ready very early in 2023.