Organised crime gangs dealing in fake goods, drugs, human trafficking, and the illicit wildlife trade earn nearly $90bn annually in East Asia and the Pacific, a UN report reveals.
In a report released on Tuesday, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said drug trafficking accounted for more than a third of the illegal transnational trade.
The report, named “Transnational Organised Crime in East Asia and the Pacific: A Threat Assessment”, says that as much as $16.3bn worth of heroin and $15bn of methamphetamine are traded annually in the region.
“These transnational criminal activities are a global concern now,” Jeremy Douglas, a regional representative of the UN agency, said in a statement.
“Illicit profits from crimes in East Asia and the Pacific can destabilise societies around the globe,” Douglas said.
He said that the profits could be used to buy properties and companies, and used for bribery.
The UN representative urged “a co-ordinated response” to address the problem.
Sandeep Chawla, the UNODC deputy executive director, said the report opened the window on “the mechanics of illicit trade: the how, where, when, who and why of selected contraband markets affecting this region”.
“It looks at how criminal enterprises have developed alongside legitimate commerce and taken advantage of distribution and logistics chains,” he said at the launch of the first comprehensive study on transnational organised crime threats in region in Sydney.
Counterfeit goods account for another $24.4bn, and most of the items such as fake designer handbags and clothing are shipped to the US and Europe.
Illegal logging generates $17bn and the biggest customers are the US, Europe and the Middle East.
Fake medicine trade, meanwhile, is estimated at $5bn.
The illegal trade of medicine particularly could have serious global health implications, according to the report. For instance, 90 percent of anti-malaria drugs tested in Southeast Asia are fraudulent
The UN representative said that these sub-standard drugs had two serious public health consequences that could lead to people getting resistant to strains of infection, or worse, dyring.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Giovanni Broussard, a UN spokesman, urged governments in the region to work together and build partnerships to fight illegal traders.
“It is a fight that we cannot lose,” Broussard said. “These criminal networks operate with no respect to borders.”
The report has identified China as the world’s biggest factory for fake goods. Much of the illegal timber trade, meanwhile, starts with widespread, criminal logging in Papua New Guinea, Malaysia and Cambodia.
These illegal enterprises are taken away from legitimate businesses, denying the governments much-needed revenue, Broussard said.
The study also looked at human trafficking and sex exploitation in the region, which generates millions of dollars every year.
It is estimated that about 12,000 Chinese migrants enter the US every year, each paying about $50,000 for smuggling services. That would generate up to $600m a year for smugglers.
Vietnamese migrants also pay as much as $50m a year to enter the US.
Separately, $192m is generated annually from fees paid by migrants from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to enter Vietnam.