Washington Insider -- Friday

More Pressure on China Over Forced Labor

Here's a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN's well-placed observer.

Federal Judge Halts Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Debt Relief

A Federal judge in Florida has issued a preliminary injunction that halts the implementation of the program to provide debt forgiveness to socially disadvantaged farmers. U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard halted the program, saying it does not do away with racial discrimination.

“Congress also must heed its obligation to do away with governmentally imposed discrimination based on race,” Morales Howard said. “It appears that in adopting Section 1005's strict race-based debt relief remedy Congress moved with great speed to address the history of discrimination, but did not move with great care.”

The provision referenced by the judge would have USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) pay up to 120% of direct and guaranteed loan outstanding balances as of January 1, 2021, for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. However, the judge indicated that USDA could still continue preparations to deliver the debt relief until the program is found “constitutionally permissible.”

The program had already been on hold die to a separate restraining order in Wisconsin, but this Florida decision is seen as a nationwide suspension of the program.

The suit in Florida was brought by white farmer Scott Wynn who said he had federal farm loans and could not apply for the debt forgiveness as he was white.

No Conclusions From Senate Hearing On Cattle Market

The Senate Agriculture Committee explored the issue of U.S. cattle markets and as expected, did not come to any conclusions about what needs to be done to address market conditions.

The panel heard testimony from cattlemen and academics who focused on the need for price discovery improvements with some pushing for livestock price reporting requirements to be tweaked to improve market clarity.

There was also considerable discussion about processing capacity in the U.S., with lawmakers hearing about the costs involved in setting up new slaughter facilities.

This is why Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will take more time for the industry to reach agreement, something that will take a major effort and time. Expect any plan from Congress to likely come about later rather than sooner given the breadth of issues.

Washington Insider: More Pressure on China Over Forced Labor

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) as issued a Withhold Release Order (WRO) on silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry based in Xinjiang, China, and its subsidiaries.

“This WRO is based on information reasonably indicating that Hoshine used forced labor to manufacture silica-based products,” CBP said. “As a result, personnel at all U.S. ports of entry have been instructed to immediately begin detaining shipments that contain silica-based products made by Hoshine or materials and goods derived from or produced using those silica-based products.”

This means that all of those products made by Hoshine will be stopped at the U.S. border and held by CBP.

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) announced that Hoshine Silicon Industry (Shanshan) Co., Ltd., Xinjiang Daqo New Energy Co., Ltd., Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals Co., Ltd., Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology Co., Ltd., and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) have been added to the U.S. Entity List, saying they were for “accepting or utilizing forced labor in the implementation of the People's Republic of China's campaign of repression against Muslim minority groups in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

The WRO does not cover all silica products from China, but indications are that CBP could be collecting information that could lead to a broader application of the WRO. They followed that pattern previously relative to cotton and tomatoes and tomato products, originally targeting just the products from the XPCC and later they broadened it to all products from Xinjiang.

The South China Morning Post downplayed the potential impact on Hoshine, quoting Peng Peng, general secretary with the China New Energy Investment and Financing Alliance, as saying the U.S. market for Chinese solar panels is not that big. However, she also noted there were few alternatives outside of China for the products -- China produces about 76% of the world's polysilicon, with production bases mainly in Xinjiang, the Inner Mongolia autonomous region, Sichuan province and Yunnan province.

"I believe Chinese companies have been preparing for any U.S. sanctions since the trade war began. So, we need to think next about how to counter the U.S. sanctions by swapping the origin of production, by shifting orders within China," she said.

Predictably, the reaction within China has been critical of the U.S. actions. Commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng repeated the Chinese stance that the “so-called forced labor issue” in Xinjiang is “completely contrary to the facts.” Gao also said the U.S. is “again using its state power to practice protectionism and bullying in the name of so-called human rights, which seriously damages the international economic and trade order and poses a serious threat to the security of the global supply chain.”

From China's Foreign Ministry, spokesman Zhao Lijian said, China will “make necessary responses to resolutely safeguard its own interests.”

The pressure on China is clearly rising from the U.S., but what is of even greater concern for China is if European countries follow suit. That could create even more potential pressure on China and Chinese businesses if they are blocked out of the EU market.

Already, some companies in Europe have opted to include provisions in contracts that require proof that no Xinjiang forced-labor cotton is involved in textiles or clothing items. That may be a tough task, but the fact companies are doing so is a clear signal that the issue is not going away.

So we will see. If the pressure mounts on China, their warnings of “protecting their interests” could take several forms, including actions against imports of U.S. products, something which needs to be closely watched, Washington Insider believes.

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