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Joint U.S.-China opioid smuggling bust could speed trade deal

Signs of cooperation between the U.S. and China to halt illegal shipments of opioids bodes well for a possible trade deal between the world's two largest economies, analysts said.

Law enforcement officials from both countries are expected on Thursday to brief the media on a joint effort to break up a fentanyl smuggling operation in China, according to published reports, citing a notice from China's State Council Information Office. President Donald Trump has pressed Beijing to crack down on opioid exports to the U.S. and expressly linked progress on that front to trade talks.

The joint interdiction "boosts the prospects of a near-term phase one deal that may also include reductions on current tariffs," Raymond James analyst Ed Mills said in a research note. "We have viewed a high-profile enforcement action by China on fentanyl as of significant importance to the Trump administration."

The U.S. and China are also considering withdrawing some tariffs between the two nations, according to reports. The Trump administration began imposing tariffs, including some consumer goods, in September, with another tranche planned for Dec. 15 — prime holiday shopping time in the U.S.

If those tariffs take effect, almost every good imported into the U.S. from China will be impacted. U.S. importers pay tariffs, not China, and have warned they may need to pass the cost onto consumers.

Massive California fentanyl bust 01:43

Fentanyl is a strong opioid painkiller. Opioids are responsible for 67% of all drug overdose deaths, according to 2017 statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr. Trump last year blamed Chinese fentanyl imports for killing Americans, although Chinese officials disputed the charge. In May, China started regulating all fentanyl-related drugs as a class of controlled substances in an effort to stop illegal trafficking.

On Friday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the Trump administration expects China to take action on fentanyl. "We also want them to make good on a promise to prosecute fentanyl makers," she told reporters outside the White House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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