30 May 2014

An opium poppy field in Myanmar (UNODC).

Anti-drug officials from China and the five other states of the Greater Mekong Subregion – Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – stated their intention to improve coordination to tackle growing production, usage and trafficking of opiates and synthetic drugs at a press conference in Beijing on Thursday.

Liu Yuejin, a high-ranking official from China’s National Narcotics Control Commission, pledged “significant Chinese support” for increased collaboration, claiming in a statement that “greater regional cooperation is important as our countries face enormous pressures from drug trafficking.”

The announcement occurred at an annual meeting between regional anti-narcotics officials and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Four of the six states have been party to a memorandum of understanding promoting cooperation between them since 1993, with Vietnam and Cambodia joining the framework two years later. A separate, bilateral anti-narcotics cooperation arrangement between Burma and China has been in place since 1992.

“The new commitment is intended to improve the long-standing cooperation agreement, but also it needed to be updated to reflect the times and regional dynamic – it was a bit ‎out of date – because like any agreement it got stale,” Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, told DVB.

“The six states have agreed to cooperative measures in law enforcement to improve information and intelligence exchange and investigations, prosecutions, and even some health and development measures for drug users and vulnerable communities,” he said.

Afghanistan overtook Burma as the world’s largest opium producer in 1991, but the drug still plays a significant role in the country’s economy. Much of Burma’s opium, which is produced primarily in the rugged hills of Shan State, is exported to China. Last year, UNODC’s annual Southeast Asia Opium survey noted a 13 percent increase in cultivation from the year before, with an estimated 57,000 acres of poppy fields countrywide.

With global opium prices depressed in the early 2000s owing to a spike in Afghan output, many of Burma’s drug syndicates switched to producing synthetic drugs for export, primarily methamphetamine. A UNODC report released this month, which looks at production, traffic and use of synthetic drugs worldwide, claims that “some methamphetamine originating in Myanmar is intended for the domestic market, but most is intended for trafficking to neighbouring countries.”

The report claims that methamphetamine seizures by law enforcement have “risen rapidly” throughout the region in recent years, noting that “a rapid rise in seizures [has] particularly been reported in mainland China, where detected methamphetamine has risen annually from six tons in 2008 to more than 16 tons in 2012, making up about 45 percent of total methamphetamine seizures for the region that year.”

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