US blocks sugar imports from top Dominican producer over forced labor concerns: US Trade Rep
WASHINGTON: The US has said it will impose safeguards on imports of sugar from the Dominican Republic, after Washington’s top trade diplomat told the US Congress that the country has violated human rights and is a “national security threat.”
Betsy Brat, director of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s trade division, said a package being negotiated with the Dominican Republic would require US importers to certify that they have no plan to use forced labor in their operations.
“The Dominican Republic’s sugar sector is a national security threat” and it must work to ensure the “best possible treatment of workers, and we can’t allow that to happen,” Brat told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Lighthizer said the sanctions would “help ensure that these exports remain in the US to continue our economic prosperity.”
The United States took over the trade sanctions against the Dominican Republic last March, following a months-long investigation that found widespread abuse in the industry and said the country was a “major conduit for the illegal trade of consumer goods and products.”
Brat also confirmed to the committee last week that the Dominican Republic has been sanctioned by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) since 2016 over the ongoing violations of human rights there.
The Dominican Republic is the world’s second-largest sugar producer, but its sugar exports are valued at around US$5.2 billion. The country’s sugar producers, many of whom are members of trade unions, alleged they were told they could not sign collective agreements after the country’s 2014 referendum of constitutional change that led to the end of its decades-long military rule.
“Sugar is the lifeblood of the Dominican economy,” Lighthizer told reporters at a White House briefing. “Our goal is to ensure that the sugar import ban is not lifted, and we’re moving forward on this,” he said.
According to Br