A well-developed blind spot
A shipping container arrives at a port and is immediately sequestered for inspection. The product that it purportedly contains is legal for import, but two decades of unfortunate experience have taught the customs and environmental
authorities that the foreign shipment possibly contains materials hazardous to human health. In the case of the newly-arrived container, the authorities open it and quickly find that it does not match the shipping manifest. On that basis alone, it will not be allowed to leave the port.
Alas, this is not a description of how the USA prevents tainted Chinese imports from harming the health and safety of its citizens. Instead, it is a precise description (personally witnessed) of the process used by the Chinese to prevent US hazardous waste from entering China and harming the health and safety of China’s citizens.
This situation has been on my mind ever since the first of the many recent reports on China’s export of contaminated and low-quality products - including pharmaceuticals and personal care items - began to appear in the international media (of these reports, the best have been produced by David Barboza of the ‘New York Times’). Foreign governments and consumers are rightfully concerned about trade in these products, and they have every right to expect the Chinese government, and their own governments, to take steps to ensure consumer health and safety or - in a worst case - cut off trade. However, at the same time, I think that consumers in developed countries - and particularly Americans - have a very well-developed blind spot in regard to the export of illegal hazardous materials.