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Trade ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations agreed Friday to eliminate forced labor and shared their concern over such state-sponsored practice on minorities, in a veiled criticism of China's treatment of Muslim Uyghurs in the far-western Xinjiang region.

"We affirm that there is no place for forced labor in the rules-based multilateral trading system," the ministers said in a joint statement following their virtual meeting hosted by Britain, expressing their concern over "state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities."

They noted in the first joint statement of the G7 on the issue that about 25 million people worldwide are subject to forced labor and urged nations, institutions and businesses to work together "to eradicate forced labor from global supply chains."

The call comes amid intensified criticism from the United States and other Western countries over China's human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in the wake of allegations of forced labor behind cotton production process.

The ministers referred to the state-sponsored forced labor of vulnerable groups and minorities in the agricultural, solar and garment sectors but did not single out China.

China denies it is systematically mistreating Uyghurs and has accused the United States of meddling in its internal affairs.

U.S. President Joe Biden has made human rights a focus of his foreign policy, imposing trade restrictions on Chinese companies over the situation in Xinjiang and criticizing the crackdown on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Japan's Koichi Hagiuda told reporters afterward that a new team will be set up within his ministry to address the forced labor issue.

The G7 — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — plus the European Union, also agreed on the principles of digital trade and said they "oppose digital protectionism and authoritarianism."

In a separate document, they called for "unjustified obstacles to cross-border data flows" to be addressed, "while continuing to address privacy, data protection, the protection of intellectual property rights, and security."

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