Drug Concerns and the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
President Barack Obama and his Mexican counterpart, Enrique Peña Nieto, were among leaders praising the Trans-Pacific
Partnership (TPP) trade pact agreed upon last week in Atlanta. Involving 12 Pacific Rim nations, the accord (which still requires
the approval of national governments) has been likened to a super North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), covering 40
percent of the global economy.
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership
will translate into bigger investment opportunities and well-paid employment for Mexicans,” President Peña Nieto
wrote on his Twitter account after the Atlanta agreement was announced.
Yet, like NAFTA before it, the TPP
could open the door wide to greater and more lucrative opportunities for a generally unspoken class of entrepreneurs lurking
in our midst – drug traffickers.
to the Atlanta meeting, some analysts cautioned that drug trafficking organizations will be meticulously studying the liberalization
of trade routes over a vast area, as well as the smuggling and money-laundering opportunities presented by the tearing down
of tariff walls and the circulation of thousands of different products.
Jeremy Douglas, Asia regional representative
for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said Asian customs systems and law enforcement personnel are unprepared
for an increased flow of contraband into their countries.
agents and police in Asia frequently have no idea of the connections to the Americas and no idea of what could affect them
very soon,” Douglas was quoted in the Financial Times.
In recent years, the illicit drug
business has boomed in the Pacific Rim region. In a sign of the times, reported seizures of amphetamine pills hit the 245
million mark in eastern and southern Asia during 2013, representing an amount eight times greater than the total confiscated
Mexican drug trafficking organizations
such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the New Generation Jalisco Cartel have been implicated in the Asia and Pacific drug trade,
where profits can be enormous.
For instance, in Hong Kong a kilo of cocaine reportedly fetches three times the
price it does in the U.S, while the same portion of the drug commands six times the U.S. price in Australia, one of the countries
involved in the TPP negotiations.
One estimate of the value of the
illegal drug business in East Asia alone reaches $100 billion.
Although some Asian countries are notorious for
their draconian punishments meted out against drug traffickers, the prospect of truly big profits drives the business.
“The severe punishments, such as life sentences or even
the death penalty, are reflected in the exorbitant prices for drugs over there,” said Rodrigo Alpizar Vallejo, president
of the Canacintra business association in Mexico.
Still, it would be wrong to assume the Americas-Asia drug trade
is a one-way flow from the West to the East. As different U.S. and Mexican media outlets have reported, China (not part of
the TPP – at least for now) serves as a prime supplier of precursor chemicals shipped to Mexican Pacific ports, chemicals
that are needed to manufacture methamphetamines. Meth was once mainly made in the U.S., but like
clothes and cars in the days before off-shoring, it is now largely manufactured abroad and part of a triangular trade.
“China and the United States are the two biggest economies
of the world,” wrote Claudio Lomnitz in the Mexican daily La Jornada. “China produces precursors of methamphetamine
and the United States consumes them. Mexico is in the middle: it receives chemicals from China, manufactures methamphetamine,
and smuggles it to the United States.”
The shadowy Trans-Pacific trade in speed, Lomnitz contended, is
the contextual backdrop to much of the bloodshed in Mexico during the last several years. Many fierce underworld wars, he
continued, have been more about control over the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine than cocaine trafficking.
“China supplies the chemicals, the United States the consumers,
and Mexico the dead,” Lomnitz wrote.
Immediately following the Atlanta TPP negotiations, the White
House and Mexico’s Secretariat of the Economy both released statements. Neither communiqué directly mentioned
the illegal drug issue, but the Obama administration's statement said the TPP countries made a commitment to ratify or
respect the United Nations Convention against Corruption, and to adopt a basket of other “good governance” measures
that might have some effect on official corruption that always accompanies the illicit drug business.
Sources: El Diario de El Paso/Financial
Times, September 26, 2015. La Jornada, July 1, 2015 and October
6, 2015. Articles by Claudio Lomnitz, Julio Reyna and Alonso Urrutia.
Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source; translation FNS. Frontera NorteSur (FNS), Center for Latin American and Border Studies, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico