On Friday, September 16, 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued yet another Withhold Release Order (WRO) on imports allegedly made with forced labor. CBP posted to its website a new WRO on peeled garlic from Hongchang Fruits & Vegetable Products Co., Ltd., adding peeled garlic from China to the list of products that are prohibited from importation.

Food products importers should quickly ascertain if they are importing or purchasing peeled garlic products from Hongchang, and should be prepared for supply chain disruptions for garlic products imported from China. CBP is likely to question all imports of garlic from China, regardless of supplier or importer, in order to ascertain if they do or could contain peeled garlic from Hongchang Fruits & Vegetable Products Co., Ltd.

Earlier this year, during congressional testimony, CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske indicated his agency’s plans to increase its trade enforcement activities following enactment of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (the Act) on February 24, 2016. The Act empowers CBP to increase enforcement in several critical areas, including the importation of goods produced with slave or forced labor.

CBP has yet to issue regulations implementing the forced labor provisions, and has only issued Fact Sheets that provide little detail regarding how importers can prove compliance with the law. The Hogan Lovells’ International Trade and Investment practice, along with Investigation practice have been providing clients with advice on how to prepare for potential WROs, as well as dealing with WROs and detained shipments. We have met with key officials on Capitol Hill and CBP and will continue to follow developments in this emerging area.