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Chairman Blumenauer Opening Statement at Trade Subcommittee Hearing on the Global Challenges of Forced Labor in Supply Chains: Strengthening Enforcement and Protecting Workers

(As prepared for delivery)

Today’s hearing is the next step in this Committee’s ongoing work and leadership on forced labor issues. 

While Congress passed a law prohibiting the importation of goods made with forced labor nearly 100 years ago, it was generally unenforced and ignored after its passage.

That changed in 2016 with the passage of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act, which closed the so-called “consumptive demand” loophole that was baked into the import prohibition and rendered it ineffective.

However, passage of the law alone was not a panacea. As is so often true in trade, it needed to be backed up with enforcement.

I was pleased with the Obama Administration’s early efforts in this regard and then deeply concerned when enforcement fell off a cliff at the beginning of the Trump Administration.

In the past few years, enforcement has ramped up.  But we’re still a significant distance away from enforcement actions that measure up to the scale and pervasiveness of forced labor across the world. 

The Department of Labor’s latest report highlights forced or child labor in more than 75 countries and in more than 150 different products, many of which are used in everyday products across the United States. 

The purpose of today’s hearing is to shine a light on some of these countries, regions, and sectors, to consider U.S. enforcement efforts, and to discuss ways we can work with our trading partners to cooperate on eradicating forced labor in our supply chains.

I should also highlight that the Subcommittee held a hearing last September specifically on forced labor issues in Xinjiang.  The testimony we heard that day and the continued press reports regarding the treatment of the Uyghur and other Muslim minority groups is deeply, deeply troubling. 

I remain committed to working with my colleagues to move forward legislation that would establish a stronger regime regarding imports coming from Xinjiang, and I look forward to hearing from our witnesses regarding any updates on the situation in Xinjiang. 

I’m also eager to hear from our witnesses regarding other issue forced labor issues that should be on the radar of Congress. 

For instance, the Committee has already played an active role on forced labor on palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.  I look forward to hearing an update on the situation on the ground and the effectiveness of CBP’s enforcement actions to date. 

I’m also interested to discuss the prevalence of forced labor in the seafood industry.  The Biden Administration recently has taken some critical steps in this sector.  Ambassador Tai made a significant proposal at the World Trade Organization to tackle this issue in the ongoing fish subsidies negotiations and CBP issued the first fleet-wide Withhold Release Order earlier this summer.

I’m interested to explore how we can continue to make progress in this area.

Our witness testimony also highlights longstanding forced labor problems in the cocoa sector.  I’m intrigued to hear from Ms. Ryerson about what an effective enforcement strategy looks like in West Africa.

I’d also like to highlight my interest in forced labor in the sugar sector of the Dominican Republic.  These issues have been on our radar for many years, and a CAFTA complaint was even filed, but conditions on the ground still appear to be deplorable. 

This issue deserves renewed and refreshed attention.

As we delve into issues of forced labor across all of these regions and continents, it highlights the necessity of engaging with our trading partners to make real progress on this issue.  

I’m proud of our achievements in the USCMA on this front.  Because of that agreement, we now have a continent-wide ban on forced labor imports.  The key now is making that an effective ban, and we have a lot of work ahead of us to achieve that goal.

We need to expand this cooperation to many of our other like-minded trading partners and make this a key part of our trade policies and international diplomacy.  It is not enough for the United States to lead on this issue, but all of our allies and trading partners must also do their part. 

I think it will be useful to consider the work being done in other countries as we consider how to buttress the strong import prohibition in the United States with other supporting policies. 

With that, I’ll conclude my opening remarks. 

Let me now yield to Representative Nunes of California, who is filling in for Ranking Member Buchanan today. We’re sending Ranking Member Buchanan well wishes and hoping he has a speedy recovery.  

Representative Nunes, you are recognized for five minutes for the purposes of an opening statement. 

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