Europe turns into cocaine hub as multi-billion-euro market expands, EU says – Metro US

Europe turns into cocaine hub as multi-billion-euro market expands, EU says

FILE PHOTO: Ecuador’s Interior Ministry incinerates more than nine tons
FILE PHOTO: Ecuador’s Interior Ministry incinerates more than nine tons of cocaine seized in different operations, in Ecuador

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe is increasingly becoming a hub for production and trans-shipment of cocaine to other regions of the world, in addition to being a major consumption market, EU agencies said on Friday, warning also about the expanding methamphetamine industry.

After cannabis, cocaine is the most consumed drug in Europe, with millions of users and sales of around 10.5 billion euros ($11.1 billion) in 2020, according to a joint EU report by law enforcement agency Europol and drugs agency EMCDDA.

The European market is growing, driven by higher production in South America and also by expanding capabilities to process the raw drug in Europe itself. It could grow even more with new types of smokable cocaine products being developed, the report said, warning of higher health risks.

“More production is also now taking place inside Europe, indicating changes in the region’s role in the international cocaine trade,” the report said.

Belgium appears to be at the centre of the industry in Europe, according to data collected by the EU agencies. It is the EU country that seized the most cocaine in 2020, the last year for which data is available, for a total volume of 70 tonnes mostly at the port of Antwerp, against 49 tonnes in the Netherlands, Europe’s second biggest nation for seizures.

Belgium is also a leading country in processing coca paste, alongside the Netherlands and Spain, according to the report, which cites as evidence seizures of large quantities of chemical precursors for cocaine production and information about processing facilities.

Cocaine imported into Europe from South America is increasingly re-exported to other parts of the world, notably the Middle East and Asia, making Europe “a key trans-shipment point for drugs originating elsewhere,” the report said.

The European market for methamphetamine is also growing, but remains much smaller than that for cocaine, the report said, noting it was difficult to estimate its precise size.

The synthetic stimulant drug has traditionally been produced mostly in the Czech Republic and consumed in Eastern Europe, but new data shows demand is growing in Western Europe, especially in Belgium, which has become a major producer of the drug.

“There is now growing concern about production facilities located in Belgium and the Netherlands, where methamphetamine can be produced on a considerably larger scale,” the report said.

Europe is a leading producer of methamphetamine worldwide, and European producers are now increasingly working with Mexican criminal groups to refine production processes, the EU agencies warned.

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(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Bernadette Baum)