JASMINE MALIK CHUA | April 5, 2024

U.S. customs enforcement is kicking up a notch.

The Department of Homeland Security announced Friday that it’s rolling out an “enhanced strategy” to counter illegal trade and “level the playing field” for the American textile industry, whose 500,000 jobs it says are “critical for our national security.” ...

Efforts include sharpening the screening of small, sub-$800 package shipments that fall under the hotly contested Section 321 de minimis exception, including expanded targeting, laboratory and isotopic testing and “focused enforcement operations” that could mean greater scrutiny under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, a critical modern-slavery-fighting tool from which they’ve been largely exempt due to the data they’re allowed to omit for customs review. ...

Stakeholder involvement will also be vital to the plan’s success, said the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the National Retail Federation, the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the United States Fashion Industry Association, which urged DHS to partner with its associations and members to stop illicit shipments and ensure compliant trade.

“A successful enforcement plan must include input from all stakeholders, clear communication with the trade, and coordinated activities with importers, especially if DHS finds illicit activity happening in the supply chain.,” the trade groups said in a joint statement. “The results of any illicit activities must be shared so that our members and other importers can act quickly to address the issue. As our members look to diversify their supply chains, especially back to the Western Hemisphere, we must make sure efforts are included to incentivize and not deter new investments.”

Its members, they added, underpin 55 million—or more than one in four—American jobs and invest “considerable time and resources” in their customs compliance programs. As trusted traders that meet the high standards of programs such as the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, they are on the “front lines for ensuring that they have safe and secure supply chains.”

Textiles enforcement has been and will continue to be a trade issue for the Biden administration, DHS said. In fiscal year 2023, CBP made 5,016 textile-related seizures, including smuggled and counterfeit clothing, with a domestic value of more than $129 million. It also clawed back $266.6 million in misclassified, undervalued or unsubstantiated free trade agreement claims; issued 1,859 penalties and liquidated damages against violators; and reviewed more than 780 forced-labor-related shipments valued at over $40 million, half of which were ultimately denied entry.

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