June 08, 2023


Fill me in: A recent Wall Street Journal column makes misleading statements that a customs exception for imports, known as de minimis, is a “significant hole” for importing undetected goods made with forced labor into the United States.

How big of a hole? The column references the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a special interest group claiming that China alone shipped at least $188 billion worth of goods under de minimis in 2022.  However, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)–the official source for this data–reports the global value of de minimis goods, including China, was nearly $40 billion in 2021 (the most recent publicly available numbers).

Given such a discrepancy, one should expect another source to justify the $148 billion difference. Instead, the column returns to the Coalition, which generated its numbers from the earning statements of certain U.S. businesses. That is misleading, given earnings statements have no correlation to import data. Clearly, the Coalition’s numbers should not be taken at face value.

Further, one would expect a better understanding of customs practices. Despite the column’s assertions, importers are liable for reporting correct information, and de minimis shipments are screened like other goods entering the U.S. Indeed, as Brandon Lord, executive director at CBP, recently explained to an industry news outlet: “There’s a misconception that we don’t target or screen de minimis–it’s not true. People throw around the phrase ‘loophole.’ It’s not a loophole.”

Bottom line: Forced labor is abhorrent, but we don’t solve the problem by examining the issue uncritically.