UNODC CRIMJUST Research Segment presents findings on "The Changing Face of the Global Cocaine Market: Reading the Trends to Respond with Foresight" during side-event at the 64th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

14 April 2021 - The UNODC Drug Research Section hosted an online side-event at the 64th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, within the framework of the EU-funded CRIMJUST Global Programme, to shed light on recent and current observed developments in the global cocaine market. This side-event sought to highlight emerging threats and recent trends, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug markets, and to inform pre-emptive responses at regional and global levels, drawing upon UNODC research work with its partners.

UNODC Research Officer, Antoine Vella, presented key trends characterizing the cocaine supply chain bound for Europe, underlining the expansion of the European consumer market to rival that of North America and discussing the dynamics in the organized crime actors and business models driving the rise of cocaine trafficking to the continent. Specifically, he highlighted the increasingly fragmented criminal landscape in Colombia, partly engendered by the dissolution of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARCs), and causing a growing compartmentalization of the supply chain, creating new criminal opportunities and a diversification of actors in the source countries. Additionally, Mr. Vella discussed the growing relevance of the Paraná-Paraguay waterway as a key drug trafficking route connecting producing and transit countries, before cocaine is shipped onward to Europe via the estuary of the Paraná river. Finally, he underscored some noticeable changes observed in the European market, including the increase in the quantity of cocaine arriving to Europe – with Belgium and the Netherlands overtaking the Iberian Peninsula as the main points of entrance in Europe –, the growing prominence of Albanian and Serbo-Croatian speaking groups, and the discovery of laboratories to extract and process cocaine materials in the continent. Policies to tackle the cocaine market, he argued, should focus on international cooperation and targeting both containerized freight and clandestine flights.


Sascha Strupp, EUROPOL official, shared some findings from the recently released 2021 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA) ( Mr. Strupp stated that 80% of criminal networks are involved in drugs, 68% resort to money laundering, 80% hold legal business structures, 60% have fluid crime structure and 65% are composed of members of multiple nationalities, intensifying the transnational nature of organized crime.

Police Lieutenant Xavier Durán of the National Police of Ecuador, highlighted both the critical role of Ecuador, wedged between Colombia and Peru, as a transit country along the cocaine supply chain as well as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cocaine trafficking, as exemplified by the considerable rise in seizures of cocaine hydrochloride in 2020, compared to previous years. Additionally, Lieutenant Durán discussed the increase in cocaine trafficking via maritime and air routes in recent years following the rise in the production of cocaine. Main routes appear to start in Colombia with trafficking smuggling cocaine into Ecuador in vehicles hidden in parcels or mules, before heading to countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, while the Galapagos Islands are being used as a staging point for trafficking routes.

This CND event contributed to CRIMJUST’s efforts to strengthen criminal justice cooperation by improving the knowledge based through sharing information about the evolution of methodologies of cocaine production and trafficking as well as the characteristics of the criminal networks in order to inform policies and counter-narcotic strategies.

This CRIMJUST activity was funded by the European Union under the framework of the "Global Illicit Flows Programme" [GIFP]). It seeks to enhance law enforcement and judicial counter-narcotic strategies beyond interdiction activities and to foster transnational responses targeting each stage of the drug supply chain.

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