US judge upholds import ban

IN the first known case of its kind involving Chinese labour camp products, a judge has dismissed an importer's bid to remove a United States Customs ban on its mainland-made goods.

International Trade Court judge Jane Restani yesterday ruled in New York that 50 diesel engines from a plant in Yunnan province had been made under forced labour and should continue to be banned.

Judge Restani described some of the evidence given on the behalf of the plaintiff - including by mainland witnesses - as unconvincing.

The Jinma-brand engines, made by the Golden Horse factory in Kunming, were subject to a detention order in March 1992. But China Diesel Imports, a San Diego firm which has been importing the products for many years, took the case to court, arguing that they were not made by convict labour.

The company's attorneys complained that the case was tainted by politics, and that the US Government departments involved had taken their action under the shadow of the row over China's human rights.

China Diesel Imports' case included written testimony from the factory manager, who dismissed the 'talk' among the vicinity's locals that it was a forced labour camp, insisting instead that it was a factory providing work for relatives of people at a nearby prison.

But the judge said she 'doubted his credibility', especially on the claims he made about the premises' production facilities.

Also giving evidence supporting the importers' claims was an official from the state-owned enterprise which exports the engines.

'He was extremely nervous when questioned about the status of the Jinma and claimed to have no knowledge as to its official status.

'The court believes he was withholding information that a person in his position should have known,' Judge Restani said.

Several Customs and State Department officials, who had visited the site during 1992, had told the court that they believed the Chinese were hiding the site's true nature as a Reform-Through-Labour camp called the Yunnan No 1 Prison.

Also testifying was former prisoner Harry Wu, whose documentary on the Jinma products, made with an American TV station, had led to the original ban.

The judge ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to prove that the engines had not come from a forced labour source, and that much evidence existed to suggest that they did.