Other American businesses that have been involved in similar transactions have avoided public comment for fear of being seen as unpatriotic, according to those who agreed to be interviewed. "We wouldn't do anything to harm the United States," Shepherd said.
William Evans, a senior vice president at Barthco International, a freight forwarder based in Philadelphia, said such company bans occur regularly now as part of domestic security. But, he said, "they usually give you some lead time so people with shipments can get them before the sanctions begin."
Since Shepherd and some other American clients of the Chinese companies -- including Rolland's client, Jerry M. Sorkin of Wayne, Pennsylvania, a rug and antiques dealer whose 40-foot container with US$30,000 worth of such goods was seized -- had no opportunity to cancel orders or switch shippers, they are in a quandary.
Shepherd and Sorkin are deciding whether to send the goods back or destroy them, at their own expense. Government regulations require that they decide by July 30.
Lu of Nichem said he had decided to ship the materials back but would try to reimport them via another shipper. He declined to say just how much it had cost him because his shipment had been sitting in New York's port for the last month, but acknowledged, "It's not a small problem for us."
In Greenville, Shepherd said the seizure of his rugs "is a hardship, but it is not going to put us out of business."
Norinco has received its money already, under a May 5 letter of credit that legally bound Shepherd to pay for the goods, and it is Shepherd who is left to recoup the losses. He said he was meeting this week with his Chinese agent to explore whether the rugs could be returned.
In the meantime, his company's 25 employees are busy arranging to air freight replacement rugs to fill retailers' orders in time for the busy fall season.
Sorkin was trying to figure out whether he could ship the container to Canada and store it in a bonded warehouse there, a cheaper choice than returning the goods to China, while he tries to find a buyer.
"I just can't see throwing my hands up," he said, "or asking someone to take a match to the container." Sorkin, who also has paid for his goods, said he was going public with his plight because he wanted to highlight the damage inadvertently being inflicted on "little businesses who are being punished far more than the companies that were meant to be punished."