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WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden signed a law Thursday virtually banning all imports from the Chinese region of Xinjiang in response to concerns over forced labor, as US companies find themselves caught in the diplomatic fray. The bill, which was approved by Congress last week, bans the import of all goods from the region unless companies offer verifiable proof that production did not involve forced labor.

The Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act sets its sights on three products in particular: cotton, of which Xinjiang is one of the world’s major producers; tomatoes; and polysilicon, a material used to produce solar panels. In a rare bipartisan move, the Senate last week unanimously voted to make the United States the first country to ban virtually all imports from the region.

The vote came despite lobbying by US firms, many of which are heavily dependent on Chinese suppliers and already facing massive disruption due to trade disturbances caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The law gives the government “new tools to prevent goods made with forced labor in Xinjiang from entering US markets and to further promote accountability for persons and entities responsible for these abuses,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, calling on China to end “genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Beijing on Friday slammed the measure, accusing the United States of “violating international law” and “maliciously slandering” China. China’s foreign ministry urged the United States to “immediately correct its mistakes,” threatening to “make a further response,” in a statement. An estimated 20 percent of garments imported into the United States each year include some cotton from Xinjiang.

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