Related to; fentanyl imports

Who is responsible for stopping smuggling into a country? The country where the goods are shipped from, or the one which receives them?

Recently the UK has been asked for 2.7bn Euros in relation to goods that have been misclassified on import, but I haven't seen any mention of charges made against the originating country of the goods.

Conversely the linked question seems to place a duty on the originating country to prevent smuggled goods reaching their destination, rather than on border controls and customs checks at the receiving country.

Is there a standard convention? Or do these things depend on what is being smuggled/imported where and who by?

  • 1
    Are you specifically interested in prohibited goods, or are you also interested in the smuggling of legal goods?
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 15:22
  • @phoog If those are treated differently then both.
    – Jontia
    Commented Aug 7, 2019 at 8:47

2 Answers 2


Both. And others.

Security is an onion, not a single barrier. To prevent illegal drug sales, a country should do all of

  1. Try to cut off the supply at the source (drug producers). Includes both domestic and foreign sources.
  2. Try to prevent the transport of the supply (including smuggling).
  3. Try to prevent the distribution of the supply (drug dealers).
  4. Try to prevent demand for the supply (drug users).

Each of these will be imperfect. As such, there is no single responsibility for illegal drug smuggling. All the layers are needed.

In the case of something like fentanyl, there are a number of advantages to cutting off at the source. Fentanyl is made chemically (as opposed to something like marijuana, which is grown). So the people who make it have a marketable skill. If they face a real threat of imprisonment, they are likely to prefer to use their skill in a different market. Some of the inputs for fentanyl are legal in and of themselves, so tracking their sale can lead to illegal producers. For that matter, fentanyl has legal uses, so tracking the legal sales can lead to illegal sellers.

When fentanyl comes from a foreign source, a country can find that frustrating. Because they have all the costs of these checks domestically, but they can't put the same processes into effect internationally. Now of course, even if they had such checks, it wouldn't necessarily prevent the fentanyl from being made somewhere. It's not impossible to produce it illegally. It's just much easier if it is produced legally and then just shipped and sold illegally.

  • 1
    What about the shoes and textiles imported from China? Does China bear any responsibility for the proper collection of customs duties in the destination country? Do clothing retailers or their customers have any liability?
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 6, 2019 at 15:25

Generally, the customs service and/or border police attempt to apprehend contraband at the point of entry. Once it has entered the country, it is typically up to domestic law enforcement such as the police to locate the criminal. I believe in some places there is a special "financial police" that also handles crimes such as tax evasion which may be involved.

Fentanyl is a controlled substance so that particular example would probably fall under the purview of a specialized drug agency. Customs still attempts to check incoming goods, and if any of them aren't lawful, they detain them. But this is a somewhat passive approach. The drug agency will actively track down incoming shipments and try to intercept them based on prior knowledge.

It is typically more a concern of the recipient country, because many countries have a great interest in keeping things out. Thus they devote substantial resources towards it. With contraband such as drugs, countries have slightly less of an interest in preventing it from leaving. After all, if it leaves, it becomes someone else's problem. Right?

Not really. Consistent poor control of exports can damage international relations. It can also support domestic criminals who gain income from the export. It creates crime in the originator country and corruption in the border service. For this reason, exports are less controlled only in the sense that they have second priority to imports - otherwise they are very important.

Also certain specific classes of goods, such as historical artifacts, rare animals or their parts, currency, valuable stolen items, are obviously very important to prevent from leaving. For these, the authorities will tightly control the exports.

I think that in many cases where drugs (or any contraband really) go from country A to country B it is not an accident they go from country A. It is probably because country A is where it's easiest to produce them in bulk. Countries that generally have poor rule of law would be the top candidates. Whereas country B is one with a market for it, so one with wealthy people. Wealthy countries tend to have strong rule of law. So you have a trend where originator countries are usually much less orderly than recipients to begin with. Maybe this creates the impression that originators do not do as much, or do not have as much responsibility, if they do not do more to stop the flow of contraband. Rather, it's the other way around.

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