US says ban on tobacco imports has nothing to do with Malawi-Russia relations

Bryan Dwyer, Acting US Public Affairs Officer

Following the United States Government’s issuance of a Withhold Release Order (WRO) for “all Malawi tobacco or products produced in whole or in part with Malawi tobacco”, Washington has indicated that there is no expiration date for the Order.

The development means that all Malawi tobacco shipments to America will be detained and must be re-exported unless importers provide US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with evidence demonstrating proof of admissibility.

The Embassy’s acting public affairs officer Bryan Dwyer disclosed this in response to a questionnaire from Kulinji.com.

”There is no expiration date for the WRO. The WRO may be revoked if there is evidence that the use of forced labor in violation of section 1307 has ceased.

“In past instances, CBP has modified or revoked WROs in place, where appropriate, ” said Dwyer.

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He said the CBP conducted a full review and determined that the information available reasonably showed that the country’s green gold is being produced with forced labor, including forced child labor, and imported into the US in violation of 19 U.S.C. § 1307.

Asked if the ban is limited to the just closed marketing season or not, he clarified that when the Order is issued, it takes effect immediately and affected shipments are detained at the US port of entry until it is lifted.

The move by America to stop buying Malawi tobacco came soon after President Peter Mutharika’s recent trip to Russia and some diplomatic commentators were linking it to the visit.

However Dwyer dismissed such assertions.

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“The WRO is a law enforcement action based exclusively on an exhaustive US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) review, which determined that the information available reasonably indicates that Malawi tobacco is being produced with forced labor, including forced child labor”.

The Acting Public Affairs Officer reiterated his government’s ties with Lilongwe and pledged its continued support to Malawi in her efforts to combat forced labor and child labor.

According to Dwyer, child labor is a significant human rights and governance issue that Malawi should urgently work with partners to eradicate the vice.