Pressure builds on Uighur issues

Pressure builds on Uighur issues

April 12, 2021 | By Keith Martin in Washington, DC

Pressure continues to build to block imports into the United States of solar panels made with polysilicon or other inputs from the Xinjiang region in western China.

Roughly 45% of the world’s supply of solar-grade polysilicon comes from the region.

The AFL-CIO asked the Biden administration in a March 12 letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to have US Customs issue a “withhold release order” blocking affected solar panels. US Customs is currently blocking imports of tomatoes and cotton from the region.

A representative from the United Steelworkers union repeated the request at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on March 18 on “Fighting Forced Labor.”

Two US senators, Marco Rubio (R-Florida) and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), asked the Solar Energy Industries Association in a March 23 letter what steps its members are taking to ensure that their supply chains remain untainted by forced labor. SEIA responded on March 28 that it has been encouraging its members since last October to move supply chains from the region and that “most solar panel imports will be free of products sourced from” the region by June.

Rubio and Merkley named four Chinese polysilicon suppliers that various publications have suggested may supply polysilicon produced with Uighur labor. The four are Daqo New Energy, Xinte, East Hope and GCL Poly. Their letter also identified three solar panel suppliers that have acknowledged publicly that they source polysilicon from the region: Jinko Solar, JA Solar and LONGi Solar.

Jinko said in a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission last December that some products it sells in the US could contain materials from Xinjiang. The filing said the company may have to reconfigure its supply chains if the US tightens restrictions. It warned investors that any such move by the US “could result in significantly higher manufacturing and other costs to us, delay our product supply to the US market, and reduce demand for our products.”

Bipartisan groups of congressmen and senators reintroduced bills in the House and Senate in February to ban “all goods, wares, articles, and merchandise mined, produced, or manufactured wholly or in part” in Xinjiang, unless US Customs is persuaded there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the products were not made with forced labor by Uighur Muslims. A similar bill passed the House nearly unanimously last September, but failed to pass the Senate after lobbying by US companies concerned about their inability to trace supply chains fully. (For more detail, see “Multiple tariff issues in play” in the December 2020 NewsWire and “Uighur issues in financings” in the February 2021 NewsWire.) Neither house has scheduled action yet on the measures this year.