To combat “an unprecedented overdose epidemic,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced recently a strategy to combat fentanyl and other synthetic drugs that includes provisions likely to affect import and perhaps exports. CBP notes that many fentanyl precursors and related products may be legally imported and exported and that this strategy aims to disrupt the supply chain of these goods “by targeting suspicious locations and recipients that demonstrate patterns of illicit activity.”

Among the trade-related actions CBP intends to pursue under this strategy are the following.


- in light of data showing that most precursor seizures are from unmanifested or mis-manifested de minimis shipments that include pre-printed domestic labels, employ progressive enforcement actions beyond seizure, to include penalties, liquidated damages, denial of landing rights, and landed quantity verifications

- use enforcement authority to deny entry, seize merchandise, and penalize parties who facilitate the shipment of illicit cargo as well as those that violate advance cargo information and manifesting requirements

- develop regulatory and reporting requirements for operators, to include de minimis carriers and cargo, and establish narcotics enforcement agreements with express consignment carriers

- increase targeting to thwart imports of pill presses, die molds, encapsulating machines, and spare parts used for illicit purposes

- leverage developments in commercial artificial intelligence applications to improve the identification and screening of containers and express consignment packages for mislabeled and misidentified goods

- create a new interactive dashboard to enable near real-time identification of suspicious commodities to target

- establish a national uniform method of analyzing seizure data of illicit de minimis cargo to identify violators


- expand the Section 321 de minimis-focused data pilot to assess the technical requirements to receive additional advance data from non-traditional trade partners

- offer an air cargo examination course for CBP field personnel to give them “the knowledge and skills to identify more readily suspicious de minimis shipments” (because bad actors “routinely mislabel their shipments” as qualifying for such treatment, “making it more difficult to discover” when they contain “low-value illicit products”)

- place more emphasis on technology, intelligence, and staffing methodologies to better account for the rapid growth of e-commerce as a method of importing and allow for more effective targeting, enforcement, and deterrence

- place more emphasis on small, low-value packages that may be used to send illicit drugs and manufacturing materials

- share information on the final destination of master carton shipments (packages that contain multiple individual packages with various commodities bearing pre-printed domestic last-mile carrier labels destined to multiple consignees) with investigative partners for further action and share data to help identify precursor consignees, brokers, shippers, and manufacturers as well as changing cargo trends and supply routes


- offer training to broker, carrier, importer, and exporter trade associations to teach them how to identify primary ingredients/chemicals used to make illicit synthetic narcotics

- engage in partnerships with the international trade community that will aid in the identification of new trends and data regarding shipping routes

- work with express consignment carriers, air carriers, and other logistic companies to share information about suspicious commodities, potential transit routes that bad actors are leveraging, and other data

- leverage fellowships at the National Targeting Center to focus combined resources and information on targeting and seizing fentanyl and other illicit synthetic narcotics and their precursors entering the U.S. via cargo or cross-border smuggling in privately-owned or commercial vehicles

- increase the use of international tools such as the International Narcotics Control Board’s Pre-Export Notification and the International Operations on New Psychoactive Substances Incident Communication System

- utilize the World Customs Organization’s Customs Enforcement Network seizure database system to focus CBP intelligence sharing and monitor reports of synthetic drug seizures by international partners

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