On November 13, 2023, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators1 published a letter to Acting Commissioner Troy Miller of U.S. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") calling for an increase in CBP enforcement activity targeting textile and apparel that obtains trade benefits under the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement ("CAFTA-DR") and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement ("USMCA"). Citing concerns of the U.S. textile and apparel industry, including recent mill closures and flagging prospects for domestic producers due to unfair competition from products made with forced labor, the letter urges CBP to probe FTA eligibility claims made by importers, and to conduct visits and audits of foreign apparel factories.
The senators ask CBP to increase enforcement of rules of origin requirements and to look for potential violations of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act ("UFLPA") in member countries. The letter requests that CBP consider:
- Increasing "on-site and surprise verifications" in CAFTA-DR and USMCA regions;
- Conducting a "comprehensive review" of existing enforcement authorities and penalties for textiles and apparel, and creating a "strategic plan that outlines how CBP will maximize its existing tools and resources to ensure full compliance with CAFTA-DR, USMCA, and other relevant trade tools"; and
- Creating a Spanish language version of CBP's e-Allegation service, allowing individuals to report anomalies, and communicating with local governments, companies, and NGOs to spread access.
The letter notes that metrics of enforcement for CBP, including the number of site visits conducted by CBP in CAFTA-DR, as well as the number of audits and special enforcement operations conducted, have decreased over the past five years.
Any company that is reliant on trade benefits for textile and apparel imports from CAFTA-DR or USMCA countries should use this as an opportunity to proactively evaluate their compliance (and their suppliers' compliance) with the requirements of these agreements. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.
1. The letter was signed by chair of the Committee on Finance Ron Wyden (D - OR), Bill Cassidy (R - LA), Mark Warner (D - VA), Thom Tillis (R - NC), Tim Kaine (D - VA), Lindsey Graham (R - SC), Sherrod Brown (D - OH), and Tim Scott (R - SC).
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.