Five Southeast Asian countries, China, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) agreed on Friday to improve intelligence sharing and law enforcement operations to fight drug trafficking in the region by transnational crime groups.
While opium cultivation and heroin refining have fallen in the past decade, the area is now at the heart of the Asia-Pacific methamphetamine trade, which the UNODC estimates to be worth as much as $61.4bn in 2018, up from an estimated $15bn just five years earlier.
The trafficking operations are also being driven by increasingly sophisticated criminal groups, like the Sam Gor syndicate, that can funnel tonnes of drugs from the Golden Triangle to countries stretching from Japan to New Zealand with the ability to adapt to law enforcement methods and able to shift trafficking routes to evade authorities.
"The challenge posed by Sam Gor is massive ... they traffick drugs out using multiple borders at any one time. They are laundering money through various businesses across the Mekong," said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's chief in Southeast Asia.
Ministers from Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam agreed at the meeting in Bangkok on Friday to regular intelligence sharing and conducting more integrated cross-border investigations and anti-trafficking operations together.
"Before, cooperation at the operation level has been pretty ad hoc but now we hope it will be more organised, systematic, and efficient," Douglas told Reuters, adding that these cross-border operations will also be better monitored with regular reports every year.
"We have to be on top of the situation. That means good intelligence and good information are necessary," said Deputy Commissioner of China's National Narcotics Control Commission Andy Tsang Wai-hung.
The governments also agreed to work on improving health services, preventive education and to intercept and keep up with the chemicals that are being used as precursors for the production of methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.