By Kyle Taylor, MIPP Graduate (2017)

Sai ba dee!  I am in my fourth month of working at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Lao PDR Office in Vientiane. The Lao National Day has passed, which marks the end of the Laotian civil war and the establishment of Lao People’s Democratic Republic on 2 December 1975. It is Lao PDR’s equivalent to Canada Day. My focus at work has slightly changed. Although I am still working on the Alternative Development project, I have had the opportunity to research the trafficking in persons situation in Lao PDR, as well as the rise in illicit trade flows in the Asia Pacific region.

Around 90 percent of world trade is carried by sea transport and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move goods and raw materials around the world. More than 500 million containers transport by sea annually from country to country and continent to continent. With less than 2 percent of containers inspected at sea ports, the incredible volume of containers travelling by maritime transport makes them targets for transnational organized crime to smuggle drugs, weapons, and even people. The global dependency on sea transport for trade, combined with sophisticated trafficking routes and ingenious concealment methods employed by traffickers, make it difficult for law enforcement officers to interdict and combat illicit trafficking of drugs, and other transnational organized crime activities. Some of the challenges in enforcing law at sea ports include lack of capacity, inter-agency mistrust, complex port processes and systems, and other factors which are deliberately exploited by transnational criminal organizations. The situation, therefore, poses a very real and serious threat to the security of the international trade supply chain, as well as to sustainable development.

Although Lao PDR has seen notable growth and development, the downside has been a rise in organized criminality. As a major transit, and to an extent, a destination and source country to drug trafficking and other illicit activities, the risk of shipping containers being exploited for illicit drug trafficking, transnational organized crime, and other forms of illicit activities remains high in Lao PDR.

In this context, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Customs Organization (WCO) have developed jointly the UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme (CCP). The CPP was launched in 2003 to assist governments to create sustainable structures and processes in seaports in order to minimize the exploitation of shipping containers for illicit drug trafficking and other forms of transnational organized crime. The UNODC-WCO Container Control Programme operates in 54 countries globally. Under the CPP, significant seizures have been made in all categories of illicit trade; drugs, wildlife and environmental crime, cigarette smuggling, IPR merchandise, weapons, and strategic goods. In 2016, more than 38,000 kilograms of cocaine, 1,500 kilograms of heroin and approximately 55,000 kilograms of precursor chemicals used to produce drugs had been seized at CCP Air and Sea ports worldwide.

I had the opportunity to attend an advanced interdiction training course for customs officers from 6 to 7 December at the Dongphosy Container Yard in Vientiane. Officers were introduced to methods concerning how to identify controlled substances, facilitate their legal entry and curtail their illegal trade.

With my time in Lao PDR soon coming to an end, I am trying to take advantage of all the opportunities here that I can. I plan on spending some time in Vang Vieng and Luam Prabang before I go.  My time working in Vientiane has been very rewarding, as well as challenging, and I am grateful that I have had this opportunity to develop my skills and get international experience.