On 7 September 2021, CRIMJUST launched the first issue of a new publication series “Cocaine Insights” in an online event during which UNODC and EUROPOL presented the main findings.
In the opening remarks, Ms Chloé Carpentier, from the UNODC’s Drug Research Section, noted that while the cultivation and production of cocaine is concentrated in Latin America, especially Colombia, the rest of the supply chain is opening up to the international market. Nevertheless, the cultivation of coca bush is expected to expand to other countries if left unchecked, providing a much bigger supply of raw material to the cocaine market. According to the report’s findings, the coca bush cultivation area, as well as its yield, are both already on the rise in Latin America, making coca production an even more profitable activity. The cocaine market continues to be very dynamic and rapidly growing which calls for real time monitoring and foresight by law enforcement in order to control it. EUROPOL’s Julia Viedna noted that cocaine trafficking is one of the key security concerns and crime threats in Europe and that much of the violence related to serious and organised crime is linked to drug trafficking. With 4.4 M users in Europe, cocaine is the most popular drug used in the western and central parts of the continent. Cocaine trade is becoming more violent, diverse, and competitive.
The report’s main findings identify a surge in the cocaine market that appears to be supply driven, resulting in an increase in the availability of cocaine in Europe. The number of seizures has also increased, not only in Europe, but also in the US and Colombia. In Europe, the epicentre of the cocaine trade is shifting from the Iberian Peninsula – which remains important – to the north, with Belgium and the Netherlands seeing large amounts of cocaine entering through their ports. These large container ports provide a platform for movement of vast amounts of cocaine. Apart from the increase in supply in Europe, the report finds an increase in availability, with Europeans having easier access to cocaine.
Another point worth noting is the diversification of trafficking groups, as well as the erosion of the established oligopoly. Cocaine often arrives in Europe unprocessed; it is then shipped to the Netherlands for large-scale and sophisticated processing. Criminal networks have a strong international character with Albanian and Moroccan groups active in Antwerp, receiving the already processed drugs arriving at the port. The drugs are then distributed across Europe. In addition, European criminal groups are increasing their presence in Latin America, with Italian and Spanish groups working with Colombian drug producers, cutting out the middlemen thus reducing costs. These groups are diversifying though, with Albanian groups, for example, establishing themselves in Latin America. Southwestern Europe remains a gateway, with routes linking North Africa and Spain or Metropolitan France with its overseas departments. Although a known modus operandi in Latin America, the use of general aviation and semi-submersibles for trafficking cocaine illustrated new ways of transporting drugs into Europe.
A study of the cocaine market allows to see an increasingly globalised and interconnected market with purity levels in different regions converging, and competition, collaboration, and diversification leading to an efficient supply chain. Furthermore, the transatlantic route seems to be the path of least resistance, given the high prices of cocaine in the European market, as well as the strong presence of law enforcement along the trafficking route from South to North America.
The global cocaine trade should be studied under the lens of its multitude of actors, including farmers, producers, brokers, traffickers, and distributors (wholesale, mid-level, retail). The pivotal role of brokers was noted, since they connect the different actors of the criminal economy. Furthermore, communications technology has changed the landscape, making the market more fluid and dynamic. The availability of encrypted communications has improved security for the various actors involved.
New technologies enable easier and more efficient interaction, but also give space for a more international market. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the presence of non-European organised crime groups in Europe is limited but not insignificant. They are mostly in the continent for liaison and money laundering purposes. In any case, the report and the speakers noted the importance of law enforcement keeping up with technology and communication methods used by criminals, in order to curb cocaine trafficking.
The event ended with the speakers sharing perspectives for the future. Given that the production stage is the only stage that remains relatively circumscribed, intervention at the source through strengthening governance and development was one of the main ideas addressed, as was the need for proactive measures and the targeting of the higher echelons of crime organisations in order to break the business model and ensure that crime does not pay. The diversification of supply channels is expected to continue. In addition, Africa seems to be increasingly exposed to the cocaine trafficking market, with cocaine and cannabis trafficking converging in countries like Morocco Furthermore, modalities and routes are evolving, with general aviation, semi-submersibles, and encrypted communication technologies being increasingly used in Europe. Finally, as cocaine trafficking organisations become increasingly international, the international response should reflect the need to extend collaboration across jurisdictions amongst investigators and prosecutors. This is a principal role of GIFP component CRIMJUST.
CRIMJUST is part of the European Union’s Global Illicit Flows Programme, aiming at fighting international crime, and particularly drug trafficking, through international cooperation and in line with international legal instruments. For its second phase, CRIMJUST has a strong focus on research. In its second iteration CRIMJUST contributes to the fight against organised crime and drugs trafficking by producing strategic and action-oriented knowledge to support evidence-based policy making and field operations to reduce the cocaine threat. It is in this holistic view that CRIMJUST adopts a systemic analysis of the global market for cocaine from production to consumption and illicit profits, allowing a better understanding of the different trafficking strategies, including mapping of cocaine routes and the anticipation of changes. CRIMJUST’s research aims at generating and disseminating knowledge that is needed for informing evidence-based policy making, supporting counter-narcotics project implementation and activities in the field, and strengthening the capacity of beneficiary and associate countries in drug research, with a special focus on the cocaine illicit trade. The Cocaine Insights report is an example of CRIMJUST’s efforts to provide analysis to better understand the dynamics of cocaine supply and demand.