The US has banned the imports of some solar products manufactured using forced labour in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government is accused of committing genocide against the Muslim Uyghurs and other minorities.
The Biden administration has blocked imports of solar products made by Xinjiang Hoshine Silicon Industry, according to people briefed on the ban.
It also added a further five companies that make polysilicon — a raw material used by the solar industry — to the commerce department’s “entity list”, which requires US companies to secure a licence from the government before doing business with them, the people added.
The ban is the latest attempt by the Biden administration to put pressure on the Chinese government over the internment of more than 1m Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western region of Xinjiang.
This year, the US worked with the EU, Canada and UK to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over Xinjiang.
John Kerry, the Biden administration’s top climate envoy, last month told Congress that the US was considering more sanctions, but did not make clear whether that would involve a ban on solar imports or measures against officials in Beijing.
The Trump administration last year imposed similar bans on the import of cotton and tomatoes from Xinjiang. Companies from clothing retailers to manufacturers of solar panels are under mounting pressure to ensure that no forced labour is employed in their supply chains.
Congress is also considering legislation that would require companies to provide assurances that their supply chains are not reliant on forced labour in Xinjiang.
Chinese officials and researchers have described allegations of forced labour as a ploy by the US to undermine the international competitiveness of the country’s solar industry.
The foreign ministry recently dismissed those making accusations of forced labour in the solar supply chain as “black hands” with an anti-China agenda. “Their aim is to cook up lies about forced labour in order to force job loss and decoupling with Xinjiang,” it said.
An article published last month by the Beijing-based China Going Global Think Tank argued that the US was trying to “suppress China’s photovoltaic industry and foster local industry development, as well as to effectively win a leading position globally”.
Speaking to the Financial Times before the solar ban was finalised, John Smirnow, a senior executive at the Solar Energy Industries Association, said his group had been “ringing the alarm bells since last year” because of concern that Washington would crack down on imports.
Smirnow said that US solar companies had “pretty significant” exposure to Xinjiang up until a year ago, but that companies had greatly reduced the proportion of such products in their supply chains.
He said companies realised that it would be very hard to convince customs to allow any solar imports from Xinjiang.
“Right now, because of the inability to do an independent third-party audit in Xinjiang on forced labour, it is going to be nearly impossible to convince customs if you have a panel or product from that region.”