US bans imports of seafood from Chinese company, citing use of forced labor

WASHINGTON – The United States has banned imports of tuna, swordfish and other seafood from a Chinese fishing company, citing evidence of forced labor on its distant vessels.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials will detain shipments containing seafood harvested by Chinese company Dalian Ocean Fishing Co., officials said, in the latest example of Washington facing Beijing over issues. of human rights.

“We found evidence of 11 indicators of forced labor, including physical violence against fishermen, debt bondage, withholding of wages, and abusive living and working conditions,” Troy Miller told reporters on Friday, senior CBP official acting as commissioner.

The order applies to the Chinese company’s entire fleet of 32 vessels, which an official says operates off the coasts of China, Indonesia and Senegal with mostly Indonesian crews. Canned tuna and pet foods containing the company’s products have also been banned.

The Chinese Embassy in Washington and Dalian Ocean Fishing, based in Dalian, a coastal city in northern China, did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.

In its website, Dalian Ocean Fishing says that it focuses on ultra-low temperature fishing for premium tuna and that its main market is Japan.

The action is the latest in a series of measures targeting alleged human rights violations in China, which Beijing has denied.

CBP has issued several orders in recent months to control goods imported from China’s northwestern region of Xinjiang, including a universal ban on cotton and tomato imports over allegations of forced labor practices using Muslim minority workers.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s office on Wednesday called on the World Trade Organization to tackle forced labor on fishing vessels as part of the group’s global fisheries negotiations.

The immediate impact of the latest order on the U.S. seafood supply will be minimal due to low import volumes from Dalian Ocean Fishing, which U.S. officials say was currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

CBP says two shipments worth $ 230,000 of Dalian seafood entered the United States last year. But given that there were $ 21.6 million in imports from the company in 2018, the volume could increase significantly once it comes out of bankruptcy, Miller said.

In addition to the withholding of actual shipments, Miller said, the agency’s orders have had significant effects in deterring companies from importing items that could be seized once they arrive at U.S. ports.

Write to Yuka Hayashi at [email protected]

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