Ghada Waly

Director-General/Executive Director


Port of Antwerp press conference and Container Control Programme demonstration 

  9 June 2021

Good morning.

It is an honour to join you at the Port of Antwerp, with the distinguished Ministers, the Mayor, Excellencies, and the Secretary-General of the World Customs Organization.

I thank all colleagues from the city, port and customs authorities for taking part in today’s programme with us.

This is my first visit as UNODC Executive Director to Belgium. Over the past two days, I have been meeting with the European Commission and the Belgian government, to discuss our work together and UNODC support to address interlinked challenges posed by drugs, organized crime, corruption and terrorism.

These challenges and threats have increased and become more complex in the COVID-19 crisis and recession, and our cooperation and joint efforts are needed more than ever.

With this in mind, I am very grateful to have this opportunity to join you at the Port of Antwerp for this demonstration of UNODC support in action.

This Port has often served as a study visit location for our global Container Control Programme, and our work has greatly benefitted from the experience, expertise and training provided by Antwerp customs and police officials.

The Container Control Programme was created by UNODC and the WCO 16 years ago to help countries disrupt illicit drug trafficking through the licit supply chain.

The Programme has expanded and evolved into one of our flagship initiatives, providing world-class training to stop organized criminal groups from exploiting the global cargo trade and to tackle every kind of contraband imaginable.

With support from the European Union, the US, Canada, Belgium and other donors, the Container Control Programme delivers technical assistance to frontline officers from various national law enforcement agencies and promotes strong inter-agency cooperation to prevent and disrupt the cross-border movement of illicit goods.

Through the Programme, UNODC supports more than 120 Port Control Units and Air Cargo Control Units at seaports, dry ports, land border crossings, rail terminals and airports in more than 70 countries around the world.

Last year, despite the many restrictions posed by the pandemic, the Programme delivered 317 training activities for nearly 4,000 officers from customs and other law enforcement agencies around the world.

UNODC is also a proud member of the LEAP partnership to tackle timber trafficking, with the Container Control Programme providing specialized technical training on timber identification, risk indicators and other topics for customs and other port-based law enforcement.

The Programme’s Women’s Network has increased the number of female leaders in Container Control Units, and the percentage of women has gone up from 11 percent when the Network commenced in 2015 to 15 percent today.

We continue to strive for greater progress, and training modules on gender as well as human rights and anti-corruption are mandatory parts of basic training under the programme.

Our Office also continues to explore new partnerships to address evolving needs and challenges, as blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning revolutionize customs work, risk profiling, data analysis and supply chains.

Through our integrated mandates addressing drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism, UNODC is well placed to support governments in developing innovative responses to new criminal threats and tactics, from the rise of synthetic opioids to cyberattacks on ports.

The Port of Antwerp is a fitting location for us to meet and see first hand the good work that is being done through the Programme and with our Belgian partners.

In 2021 so far, the Container Control Programme has already seized over 66 metric tons of cocaine alone, 39 tons of which were destined for the EU market.

Last year, the Port Control Units in source countries intercepted 105 tons of cocaine, 68 tons of which were destined for Europe, and 25 tons for the port of Antwerp.

As UNODC will show in the 2021 World Drug Report that we are launching at the end of June, cocaine supply chains to Europe are diversifying and gaining in efficiency, pushing prices down and quality up.

These developments threaten to drive further expansion of the cocaine market, and urgent action is needed.

Governments need to address drug demand, including through evidence-based prevention, treatment, and other services, and we need stronger international cooperation and law enforcement coordination to disrupt illicit drug supply. 

With this in mind, I am looking forward to the demonstrations we will see today.

Allow me to conclude by thanking our hosts, the Belgian authorities, the Mayor and the Port of Antwerp, and all our valued partners. I am grateful for the long-standing support of Belgium and Antwerp to the Container Control Programme and for our cooperation here and abroad, including in the Port of Cotonou in Benin.

I would like to thank the Administrator General of Customs, as well as the customs and police of Antwerp for providing valuable training support to the Programme, including to the LEAP project, and to related UNODC initiatives such as AIRCOP.

The global fight against transnational organized crime begins at the local level, and Antwerp has shown courage and spirit in tackling shared threats and helping to keep all of us safer. I thank the Mayor and all colleagues for their continued dedication.

We at UNODC are grateful for your support, and we look forward to further expanding and strengthening our partnership with you.

Thank you.