Bangkok (Thailand), 3 April 2019 - The Thai Government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have gathered ministers and high-level officials of the ASEAN region and international community for two days of border security negotiations in Bangkok. Delegations are reviewing the latest information on transnational organized crime, considering how ASEAN integration and infrastructure plans are being used for the trafficking of drugs and other illegal commodities, and debating solutions to secure borders - land, sea and air.
The two-day meeting titled Synchronizing Trade and Security Plans in Support of ASEAN 2025 is a Thailand ASEAN 2019 priority, and a related border management strategy will be produced by Thailand and UNODC in advance of the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime and the ASEAN Summit in November.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha emphasized the importance of the conference as it started; "Thailand and the region have experienced a very significant increase in drug trafficking and other forms of transnational crime in recent years, and we need to protect the ASEAN Community from those that would do it harm." He added, "A shared border management strategy will help us secure the region and make trade more predictable, and we are ready to champion solutions this year with UNODC as ASEAN Chair, but also in the years to come - they are the strategic partner we need for this endeavour."
Thailand expects a border management consensus to emerge following the meeting, and will develop a related strategy in the coming months with UNODC that includes practical solutions for law enforcement and border control agencies to consider and adopt.
Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prajin Juntong is speaking along with UNODC Director of Operations Miwa Kato and ASEAN and dialogue partner ministers, UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas is briefing the conference on the latest transnational organized crime and trafficking situation, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs ASEAN Director General Suriya Chinawongse is chairing sessions of regional and international experts.
ASEAN is now one of the world's largest trading blocs, and countries of the region are investing heavily in trade facilitation initiatives and infrastructure to accommodate increasing cross-border movements of people, goods and capital. But ASEAN governments are increasingly raising concerns that the same investments are creating faster moving illicit trade and opportunity for cross-border criminal networks and organizations to do business, particularly in vulnerable countries and parts of the region.
Representative Douglas has advocated for setting up a regional border management arrangement to protect against transnational crimes for several years and commented, "Organized crime groups have effectively capitalized on policy and capacity disparities to grow the drug trade and other illicit businesses in Southeast Asia, and we believe a collective ASEAN border management strategy will help the region respond. We are pleased to partner with Thailand on this initiative in the run-up to the Summit, and to help them advance the plans that will follow." He added, "Other responses are clearly needed to complement what is being discussed and agreed here, including addressing market demand for illicit commodities, but part of the solution to trafficking and smuggling by organized crime is improving the management of, and cooperation at, borders."
UNODC Director Miwa Kato highlighted that challenges to integration are often overlooked, but that they can be managed; "The fact that the most vulnerable states of the region are being taken advantage of is very worrying, but at the same time we can proactively help address challenges if they are taken into account as plans are developed." She added, "Our border liaison office or BLO network helps countries with cooperation at land borders, and we can expand to new locations, and we have other options for maritime borders, ports and airports. We recommend countries try to anticipate risks and incorporate solutions up-front, but we also realize this is not always possible, and in many places we have a lot of work to do to catch-up."
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