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WASHINGTON — U.S. Customs and Border Protection said it has established a trade enforcement task force as it intensifies its enforcement efforts related to the interdiction of imported products suspected of using forced labor, as well as antidumping and countervailing duty laws.

“This task force strengthens CBP’s ability to detect high-risk activity, target illicit trade networks and work with industry to disrupt evasion of U.S. trade laws,” said CBP commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske. “It focuses expertise and resources to safeguard the U.S. market and ensure a fair and competitive trade environment.”

The task force was essentially borne out of the new and expanded enforcement authority given to CBP in the Trade and Facilitation Enforcement Act of 2015.

The law, which Obama signed in February, strengthens Customs’ enforcement capabilities and methods to crack down on dumping and duty evasion as well as to combat importation of counterfeits and protect intellectual property rights.

The law also “eliminated obstacles” for Customs to seize imports made with forced or child labor. Customs made the first seizure of imported products under the new law at the end of March, detaining a shipment containing several imported products, including viscose rayon fiber, calcium chloride, soda ash and caustic soda manufactured or mined by Tangshan Sanyou Group, based in China.

Brands and retailers, which import billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise from around the globe, are nervously watching how Customs proceeds with these kinds of detentions.

The CBP task force will draw from the agency’s collective trade enforcement expertise and coordinate with other government agency partners, including Department of Commerce and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

“By focusing its combined resources through the enforcement task force, CBP will be able to combat illicit traders that illegally exploit American trade and conduct enforcement operations at and beyond the border to ensure U.S. industry can compete on a level playing field,” the agency said.

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