China has announced plans to take increased action on precursor chemicals used to synthesize fentanyl, marking an important step in attacking the flow of these substances into Mexico.

The presidents of China, the United States, and Mexico agreed to increase cooperation to address the fentanyl crisis following talks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which took place in San Francisco, United States, between November 11 and 17.

During a November 15 meeting, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden announced they would resume counter-narcotics cooperation following a multi-year suspension, with a particular focus placed on precursor chemicals and the companies involved in their production.

The Chinese government committed to targeting suppliers of precursor chemicals and sent out a warning to companies involved in distributing those chemicals and pill press machines, which are used to manufacture synthetic drugs in Mexico. 

“We are taking action to significantly reduce the flow of precursor chemicals and pill presses from China into the Western Hemisphere,” Biden told reporters on November 16. “It’s going to save lives, and I appreciate President Xi’s commitment on this issue.”

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also said that he had agreed to continue working with President Xi, specifically regarding the flow of chemical precursors.

China was the main source country for illicit fentanyl coming into the United States until 2019, when the Chinese government banned its production and that of some precursors. In China’s absence, Mexico emerged as the main producer of illicit fentanyl trafficked to the United States, worsening a drug overdose crisis that claimed over 100,000 lives in 2022 alone, the majority from deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl. But a large part of the precursors used in the illicit production of fentanyl arrive from China.

In recent years, the relationship between the three countries regarding fentanyl has been tense. In addition to the lapse in cooperation between China and the United States, the Chinese government has also blamed Mexican customs for the continued arrival of precursor chemicals into the country.

Written by Sara Garcia and originally published by InSight Crime under Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC.