Chairs Say Illegal PRC Seafood Imports Must Be Stopped

(Washington) — U.S. Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) and U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), the Chair and Cochair, respectively, of the bipartisan and bicameral Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), today released a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to ask that they coordinate to act “quickly and decisively to address forced labor in China’s seafood industry and the very real possibility that U.S. consumers of seafood are funding North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling.”

The letter comes after The New Yorker published an investigative report from The Outlaw Oceans Project documenting the presence of North Korean laborers in Chinese seafood processing plants and the fact that the seafood they process is entering the U.S. market—in violation of both United Nations sanctions about the employment of North Koreans and U.S. law barring import of any products made with the labor of North Koreans.  

The letter asks the Cabinet Secretaries to take six specific actions to stop seafood imports from China linked to forced labor immediately and to ensure that no federal agency sources seafood made with North Korean labor for military bases, school food programs, [or] even congressional cafeterias.” This is the second time the Commission wrote to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on this topic.In October 2023, the Commissioners provided recommendations on how to address PRC seafood imports linked to the forced labor of Uyghurs and North Koreans.

The Chairs will continue to monitor this situation to help ensure America’s seafood supply chains are cleared of forced labor. The full letter can be found here

Background:  Forced labor is rampant in China’s seafood industry, including on China’s illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing fleets and in processing plants. Emerging evidence has detailed forced labor transfers from North Korea and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) to work in seafood processing factories in the PRC. Under the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act (UFLPA), the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) as well as Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (U.S.C. §1307), seafood caught or processed with forced labor should be prohibited from entry into the United States. Against this backdrop, in October 2023, the CECC held a hearing titled “From Bait to Plate – How Forced Labor in China Taints America’s Seafood Supply Chain” to address the exploitation of Uyghur and North Korean forced laborers in processing seafood destined for the U.S. market.