WCO publishes its first Illicit Trade Report

28 June 2013

Brussels, 28 June 2013

Press Release

The World Customs Organization (WCO) has published its first edition of the WCO Illicit Trade Report, which comprises six chapters, each dedicated to a single thematic area, namely Drugs, Revenue, Intellectual Property Rights, Environment, Security and the Customs Enforcement Network (CEN), and includes an outline of WCO programmes and activities to combat illicit trade.

The new Illicit Trade Report, which will be published annually by the WCO, is a break from tradition as the Organization previously produced three separate annual reports on drugs, Intellectual Property Rights and tobacco respectively for use by the international Customs community.

Illicit trade involves money, goods or value gained from illegal and otherwise unethical activity, and encompasses a number of illegal trading activities, including environmental crime, human trafficking, illegal trade in natural resources, intellectual property infringements, trade in substances that cause health or safety risks, smuggling of excisable goods, drug trafficking, and a variety of illicit financial flows.

These activities are damaging to the economic, social, environmental and political landscape, and while estimates of the global retail value of illicit trade vary, recent estimates by Global Financial Integrity (GFI) place the total at 650 billion US dollars for goods and at 2 trillion dollars if illicit financial flows are included [See Network of Global Agenda Councils - 2011-12 Report on Illicit Trade].

The Report’s main aim is to analyse seizures reported to the WCO’s CEN database, in order to identify trends and patterns at the regional and global level, and is principally addressed to Customs officers responsible for combating illicit trade, by providing them with a greater overall picture of the phenomenon, as well as information on new routings or modi operandi used by traffickers, smugglers and organized criminal networks.

Some significant trends in the Report are highlighted below:

  1. for tobacco smuggling, seizure figures for "Cheap Whites" cigarettes show a significant increase between the years 2011 and 2012, with the number of reported seizures rising by 52% and the total quantities seized by 17%;
  2. for drugs, the number of seizures remained remarkably similar between reporting periods: 1,486 tonnes of cannabis (resin, herbal and oil), 72 tonnes of cocaine, 11 tonnes of opiates, 79 tonnes of psychotropic substances and 118 tonnes of Khat;
  3. for IPR, the cases involving commodities belonging to the accessories category were the most frequently reported in 2012 (3,531 cases), followed by clothing (3,303), pharmaceutical products (2,287), and mobile phones and accessories (2,125), and despite the fact that the total number of reported cases declined, cases related to health and safety (pharmaceutical products, transportation and spare parts, and foodstuffs) increased in terms of number of cases;
  4. for environment, populations of elephants and rhinos in Africa continue to be under severe threat as the illegal trade in ivory and rhino horn grows notwithstanding continued efforts by the law enforcement community, and in general, increasingly sophisticated concealment techniques have been observed during the past year too; and
  5. for security, handguns were the item most often subject to seizure, with the majority (37%) made at land border crossings, with seizures being reported by more than 70 countries, including both developed and emerging economies.

"The Illicit Trade Report concludes that while faced with a daunting task, Customs is achieving successes in matching the challenges posed by illicit trade, thereby demonstrating that international cooperation is a key factor of this success," said Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya.

He encouraged all WCO Members to continue contributing to the Report, stressing that increased recording of seizures would enable the WCO and its Regional Intelligence Liaison Office (RILO) network to develop better and more thorough analytical products for the international Customs community.