WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate today passed the final National Defense Authorization Act which included three key priorities secured by U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The bill includes new sanctions tools to target foreign opioid traffickers in China, Mexico and other countries. It also includes legislation -- named in honor of Otto Warmbier, an Ohioan who lost his life after being held prisoner by North Korea -- to strengthen and expand current U.S. sanctions on that country. Finally, it includes provisions to prevent federal funds from being used by transit agencies to purchase rail cars or buses manufactured by Chinese state-owned, controlled, or subsidized companies.

Brown helped secure these provisions in the House-Senate NDAA conference report, which now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Fentanyl Sanctions

Brown’s bipartisan Fentanyl Sanctions Act was included as an amendment to the NDAA and would give U.S. officials new sanction tools to target foreign opioid traffickers in China, Mexico and other countries. It would also better enable U.S. diplomats and law enforcement officials to maintain pressure on the Chinese government to implement and strictly enforce China’s commitment to treat all forms of illicit fentanyl as illegal. Cities throughout Ohio -- including Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus -- have experienced spikes in suspected overdose deaths, and law enforcement officials believe fentanyl is largely to blame. Brown originally introduced this bill with Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

“On average, 14 people will die every day in Ohio due to an opioid overdose,” said Brown. “The addiction crisis has taken too many lives and caused too much devastation in Ohio. This bill will provide effective new sanctions tools to help combat the flood of illicit fentanyl coming into the U.S. primarily from China and Mexico, and help provide intelligence and funding to keep these dangerous drugs out of Ohio communities.”

Brown’s Fentanyl Sanctions Act would help crack down on illegal fentanyl coming to Ohio by:

  • Requiring imposition of sanctions on foreign drug traffickers, drug manufacturers in China who knowingly provide illicit synthetic opioids to traffickers, individuals or firms operating alone or as part of transnational criminal organizations like those in Mexico who mix fentanyl with other drugs and traffic them into the U.S., and foreign financial institutions and others that knowingly assist such trafficking;
  • Authorizing new funding to the Department of Treasury to implement sanctions to combat the foreign trafficking of opioids;
  • Urging the President to intensify diplomatic efforts with U.S. partners to establish multilateral sanctions and to deploy other multilateral measures against foreign opioid traffickers;
  • Establishing a National Commission on Synthetic Opioid Trafficking to monitor U.S. efforts and report on how more effectively to combat the flow of illicit synthetic opioids from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

The fentanyl sanctions follow Brown’s successful efforts to enact his INTERDICT Act into law, which provided U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with additional high-tech screening equipment and lab resources to detect fentanyl before it enters the U.S.

North Korea Sanctions

Brown also secured his North Korea sanctions provisions in the NDAA, legislation named in honor of Otto Warmbier, an Ohioan who lost his life after being held prisoner by North Korea. The NDAA will include a new version of the bipartisan Otto Warmbier Nuclear Sanctions and Enforcement Act of 2019 to strengthen and expand current U.S. sanctions on North Korea.

“It’s important we send a clear signal that the U.S. is serious about maintaining economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, and to stop its continuing human rights abuses like those that took the life of Otto Warmbier,” said Brown. “I thank Chairman Crapo, and Senators Toomey, Van Hollen and Portman for their leadership on this issue.”

Brown, Ranking Member on the Banking Committee, led this bill with Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID), Chairman of the committee. Brown worked alongside Sen. Crapo to shepherd this bill through committee. The original version of these sanctions against North Korea were first introduced last Congress and Banking Committee members Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) were lead cosponsors of the bill as well.

North Korea’s actions have drawn international condemnation. A North Korea armed with nuclear weapons presents a major threat to several of its Asian neighbors, and to U.S. national security.

Specifically, the Otto Warmbier Nuclear Sanctions and Enforcement Act of 2019 would:

  • Strengthen and expand U.S. sanctions on North Korea and its financial facilitators and supporters;
  • Strengthen Congressional oversight of North Korea sanctions;
  • Bolster US and UN enforcement of sanctions, including by requiring sanctions on foreign banks which support banned trade finance with North Korea;
  • Strengthen Treasury’s role in combating human trafficking.

Chinese Rail Cars

In addition to fentanyl sanctions, Brown also secured his Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act, which he introduced with U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mike Crapo (R-ID). This legislation would prevent federal funds from being used by transit agencies to purchase rail cars or buses manufactured by Chinese owned, controlled, or subsidized companies. The legislation will also ensure that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will not purchase Chinese rail cars for use in the Washington, DC region.    

“This strong bipartisan bill protects federal dollars from being spent on Chinese buses and railcars, and improves cybersecurity in public transportation,” said Brown. “Federal dollars should not support Chinese state-controlled enterprises that want to undermine U.S. manufacturers and overtake our supply chain that supports rail and bus manufacturing.”

Additional Background:

The Chinese government continues to use a range of state subsidies and predatory practices to support its market ascension in certain sectors of the United States’ economy. Two of these sectors, rail manufacturing and bus manufacturing, are included as part of China’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, a plan targeting global dominance in areas that the Chinese government considers most strategic to its global aims.

Chinese state-owned and state-supported enterprises have used subsidized “bargain prices” well-below competitive market price to win contracts throughout the United States. A number of large, metropolitan areas have recently awarded rail rolling stock procurements to a Chinese state-owned enterprise. There are a number of threats these procurements pose including impeding economic competitiveness and overtaking the supply chains that support United States public transportation agencies. Chinese state-owned and state-supported enterprises have increased security vulnerabilities and create new risks for rolling stock procurements.

Specifically, the Transit Infrastructure Vehicle Security Act would prevent federal transit funds from being used by transit agencies to procure Chinese rail assets and ensure transit agencies develop and execute a cybersecurity plan.

  • Limitation on Certain Rolling Stock Procurements: This legislation prevents federal transit dollars from being used to award a contract or subcontract for the procurement of passenger rail cars or transit buses to Chinese state-owned, controlled or subsidized enterprises after an implementation period. The bill would create a certification process for transit agencies to ensure their funds are not being used to purchase rolling stock from a covered manufacturer. A narrow exception would be made for transportation agencies with a pre-existing contract or subcontract with a covered rail rolling stock manufacturer executed prior to the date of enactment, but the legislation’s restrictions apply immediately to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. 
  • Cybersecurity Certification: Given the level of technology and growing complexity of rail rolling stock assets, it is important that proper cybersecurity standards are in place. This legislation would require any transit operator that operates rail transit service to develop and execute a plan for identifying and reducing cybersecurity risks. Recipients of federal transit assistance would be required to review best practices and to identify any hardware and software components of new rolling stock assets that should undergo third-party testing.