Drugs and Precursors Programme

Drug trafficking has a huge impact on the health and safety, security and economic development of states. It is closely linked to other illegal activities, and its proceeds are used by organized crime groups and terrorists.

The challenge faced by Customs and its partner agencies is very serious. Drug markets are continually expanding, the routes and modi operandi used by the drug trade are constantly changing and, over recent years, in addition to ‘classic’ drugs such as opiates, cocaine and cannabis, the significant upsurge in new psychotropic substances (NPS) has attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) worldwide.

The WCO Illicit Trade Report provides an annual analysis of trends and patterns in this domain.

In this context, the World Customs Organization (WCO) Drugs and Precursors Programme aims to assist Customs administrations in combating global illegal trade covering the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances subject to restrictions and prohibitions. The Programme consists of several major projects and activities:

In addition to programmes and projects aimed at improving Customs controls on sensitive modes of transport such as containers, air cargo, high-risk air passengers and general aviation, the WCO supports the activities of Customs canine teams around the world. The detection scope of Customs canine teams has gradually expanded to other areas such as anti-terrorism, including the detection of weapons and explosives, and combating trafficking in currency, counterfeit products, cigarettes and even pharmaceuticals and species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES Convention).

Canine teams are now a key element of the global risk management programmes established by Customs administrations.

Furthermore, the WCO Drugs and Precursors Programme assists WCO Members by providing training focused on field operations for Customs officers. This training usually takes place prior to international operations coordinated by the WCO Secretariat. Trainees study the latest risk management techniques, concealment methods and previously detected drug routes; they also learn to use the WCO’s CENcomm communication tool as well as other tools and instruments. In addition, the WCO’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) play a key role in supporting these capacity building and operational activities. Furthermore, throughout the past decade the WCO has repeatedly offered its facilities at its Brussels-based Headquarters to host Operational Coordination Units (OCUs). In fact, effective OCUs have proven to be a prerequisite for successful operations.

Additionally, international and inter-agency cooperation and coordination are key elements in rising to the challenges of organized crime and the WCO is on the frontline of this battle. The Drugs and Precursors Programme also works towards building new partnerships and strengthening existing ones. It welcomes innovation and new technologies as means of more effectively and efficiently combating illicit trafficking, and drug trafficking in particular.

  • Project Aircop

    In 2008, in response to the emerging threat posed by the opening up of the new trafficking route for cocaine from South America to Europe via West Africa, the WCO carried out the first Operation Cocair.

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  • The UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme

    In 2003, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) initiated the Container Control Programme (CCP) for the purpose of enhancing port surveillance in developing countries to minimize the risk of maritime containers being exploited and used for illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime and other forms of fraudulent activity.

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Relevant Materials

E-learning course