President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will order mail carriers, including FedEx, Amazon, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service, to search for the deadly drug fentanyl in packages sent from China.
The announcement, which comes in response to new tariffs imposed by the Chinese government on U.S. goods, represents a radical move to combat the flow of drugs from a nation that ships an enormous volume of packages to the United States every year.
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On Friday Beijing announced tariffs on $75 billion in goods exported from the United States. The new tariffs, which would be implemented September 1st, are just the latest volley in the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.
Trump responded to the news on Twitter, saying, "Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won't let that happen! We don't need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them."
Trump continued, "Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China." He further announced he would crack down on the fentanyl trade.
"I am ordering all carriers, including Fed Ex, Amazon, UPS and the Post Office, to SEARCH FOR & REFUSE, all deliveries of Fentanyl from China (or anywhere else!)," Trump wrote. "Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year. President Xi said this would stop – it didn’t."
How such an order would be implemented remains to be seen. But if U.S. mail carriers were to substantially enhance their surveillance of shipping from China—or be required to presumptively refuse much of it all together—it would likely have a major impact on the importation of fentanyl into the United States.
Most fentanyl consumed in the United States is produced in Chinese drug labs. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the drugs are then either smuggled across the Mexican and Canadian borders, or shipped directly to dealers and users through the U.S. mail. The synthetic opioid is often obscured in otherwise innocuous packages and hidden in the tidal wave of packages that move between the U.S. and China each year.
In December Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to crack down on fentanyl production in his country, and Chinese officials claimed to launch the crackdown in May. Trump's claim that fentanyl kills "100,000 Americans a year" is inaccurate, but the true number—more than 30,000—is still startling, and a reflection of past Chinese inaction on the drug issue.
A concerted crackdown on Chinese trade to reduce the inflow of fentanyl would doubtless have a negative impact on prices in the United States, and therefore on American consumers. Also, the fentanyl trade could spread in the coming years. A series of recent government advisories warned that fentanyl production could potentially shift to India, the Netherlands, and Bangladesh as dealers seek to avoid enhanced regulatory oversight.