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Rubio Concerned About Xinjiang Imports

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the driving force in the Senate behind the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), is aware that Xinjiang goods -- even those labeled as coming from the state-owned Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, which is on the banned entity list -- are entering U.S. commerce.

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In a hallway interview at the Capitol, he said, "There are two things we have to look at. First of all, is it an effort not to implement? It's complicated, right, because component pieces and the like. So I want to give them some benefit of the doubt in that regard, but not much. Because, ultimately, we always knew that enforcement was going to be the key ... . So it's something we're asking more questions about, because there's no point in passing a law if we're not going to enforce it."

William Reinsch, a former Capitol Hill staffer and Commerce undersecretary, now Scholl Chair in International Business at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Rubio's views are a bit of an outlier now, even though the bill had no opposition in the Senate and only one "no" vote in the House.

"I think that you're not going to find very many people in Congress who will say that there's a lack of either enthusiasm and enforcement, or that it stopped being adequately enforced," he said in a telephone interview. "There's always leakage. And there's always going to be things that show up and get through, and if you're determined to find them, you'll find one or two," he said.

The Uyghur Human Rights Project recently published a report that documented Xinjiang red dates on store shelves (see 2209060033).

Reinsch said CBP is hiring 40 or more people just to administer UFLPA, adding, "I mean, it's extraordinary." He said Congress has provided the resources to vigorously enforce UFLPA, and he expects that is what will happen. "You know, it takes time to staff up. If you're going to hire 40 people, you don't do that in one week. There's a procedure for hiring, interviewing, it just takes time."

The law went into effect in June. "It's not even three months," Reinsch said. "So it's way early to say that anybody's failed."

Reinsch said even though lawmakers would not cut the line-item in the budget to punish CBP for goods slipping through -- that would do the opposite of what Congress wants -- they could hold CBP's feet to the fire by holding hearings and getting CBP officials to testify.

That can be a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, he said. "There are not many of them that know how to run a hearing in a way to get them what they want." He said former prosecutors, such as the late Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., are good at having a series of questions that build up to a conclusion. "Give the witness opportunities to make mistakes and say something stupid," he said. But he said it's more common for senators to use 4.5 of the 5 minutes they have on a question, and then say: "Do you agree?"

He said, "That's not oversight. I mean, you don't learn anything that way."

Rubio isn't a ranking member of a committee with jurisdiction, but it's possible he could convince Government Affairs to hold a hearing, and if not, there's always sending letters to CBP and demanding answers. "If you're cranky and persistent, you know, you can accomplish some things," Reinsch said. "The problem is, it takes discipline and willpower and persistence." He acknowledged that this is an issue Rubio is passionate about, and he's likely to be persistent.

But Reinsch said this isn't a case where there is agency resistance to change how things are done, and political appointees are going to have to nudge the agency to check the box to satisfy Congress. The office CBP is hiring for, "this is going to be their only mission. And they're going to move up the food chain based on how effectively they enforce this particular statute."

He said members of Congress can point out a mistake, but a fairer way to evaluate implementation would be to wait a year and see how it's working. "If your objective is 100% success, you're doomed," Reinsch said. He said that if things slip through here or there, he doesn't think it means the program failed.