Customs and Border Protection Seizes Imports From Chinese Company Backed By Kerry Investments

CBP cites law that prohibits foreign imports produced through labor abuses

Biden climate envoy John Kerry and Chinese president Xi Jinping (Getty Images)
November 8, 2021

U.S. Customs and Border Protection last week seized imports from a Chinese company backed by an investment group in which climate czar John Kerry holds a $1 million stake.

Kerry and his wife are invested in Hillhouse China Value Fund L.P., part of the Hillhouse investment group that is a top shareholder in a Chinese solar panel company that works with companies known to be using forced labor. It was on that account that CBP seized the imports from LONGi Green Energy, citing a law that prohibits foreign imports produced through labor abuses.

The news could raise additional concerns about the Kerry family’s investment in Hillhouse China Value Fund L.P., which the climate envoy disclosed at the beginning of the year. Although Kerry divested from many of his energy-related holdings in March, the list of divestments did not include Hillhouse, according to a disclosure Kerry filed in March with the Office of Government Ethics. The investment has drawn scrutiny from Republican lawmakers and China experts, who accuse Kerry of downplaying and enabling China’s human rights abuses while trying to win concessions from Beijing on climate change.

The Hillhouse investment group, which is run by Zhang Lei, an adviser to the Chinese government, owns a 6 percent stake in LONGi. Hillhouse is also a top shareholder of YITU Technology, a company that was blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Commerce for allegedly aiding the Chinese government’s surveillance of Uyghurs.

Kerry's Hillhouse stake is through a trust in which his wife is the beneficiary. He stated in his disclosure that they are not involved in managing the investments.

LONGi, the White House, and CBP did not respond to request for comment.

LONGi Green Energy said its products were temporarily detained by CBP from Oct. 28 to Nov. 3, under a "Withhold Release Order," according to an announcement filed by its board of directors with the Shanghai Stock Exchange on Nov. 4.

Withhold Release Orders are intended to "prevent merchandise produced in whole or in part in a foreign country using forced labor from being imported into the United States," according to the CBP website.

LONGi’s board of directors sought to allay concerns over the seizure order, saying it impacted "a total of 40.31 MW of components exported to the United States" which "accounted for approximately 1.59 percent of export sales" to the United States last year.

"The U.S. Customs’ Temporary Detention Order (WRO) has not yet caused the company’s operations significant adverse effects," the board said. "The company will continue to monitor and evaluate the impact of the WRO on the company’s U.S. shipments."

Human rights investigators identified LONGi as "a customer of many of the polysilicon companies that are engaged in labor transfers in the Uyghur Region," in a report published earlier this year by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University.

Industry analysts recently warned that LONGi is likely to face trade obstacles, after the Biden administration ordered a ban in June on imports connected to forced labor of minority groups in China’s Xinjiang region.

Roth Capital Partners, a financial analyst firm, said on Tuesday that it believed a detention order for LONGi products was "imminent," according to a client report obtained by PV Magazine, a solar trade publication.

"Look for this to impact LONGi in a broad-based way," the analysis said.

A group called American Solar Manufacturers Against Chinese Circumvention (A-SMACC) has also been lobbying the Biden administration to investigate the supply chain of LONGi specifically, and other Chinese solar panel companies linked to forced labor, and to impose additional tariffs on those goods. The administration is expected to make a decision on the tariffs next month.

Kerry criticized moves by lawmakers to penalize Chinese solar panel companies in September.

"On the one hand, we’re saying to [China], ‘You have to do more to help deal with the climate,’" Kerry said. "And on the other hand, their solar panels are being sanctioned, which makes it harder for them to sell them."