WCO – 2021 Illicit Trade Report

The World Customs Organization (WCO) issues its 2021 Illicit Trade Report (ITR), an annual publication which offers a comprehensive study of illicit trade flows through an in-depth analysis of seizure data and case studies voluntarily submitted by Member Customs administrations worldwide. The information captured in the ITR provides essential insight into the occurrences of illicit trade, thereby assisting Customs administrations in understanding trends and patterns and making enlightened decisions to secure cross-border trade. 

This year, the analysis provided in this Report is based on data collected from 138 Member administrations. Previously composed of six sections, the Report now covers seven key areas of risk in the context of Customs enforcement: Anti-money laundering and terrorist financing; Cultural heritage; Drugs; Environment; IPR, health and safety; Revenue; and Security.

Overall, this 2021 Report largely focuses on the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the flows of illicit trade worldwide and how criminal organizations have adapted and shifted transport and shipment modes of smuggled goods. One common denominator to the different areas covered in this Report, is the increased use of online marketplaces and social media to accommodate both demand and supply during the health crisis. Consequently, seizures in mail consignments are seeing an important increase.

The analysis contained in this Report is mainly based on the collection of data from the WCO Customs Enforcement Network (CEN) — a database of worldwide Customs seizures and offences. The CEN is a vital resource, allowing all WCO Members to access a critical mass of information for analysis of illicit trafficking in the various areas of Customs’ competence. 

However, the CEN database relies heavily on voluntary submissions by Members hence the quantity and quality of the data submitted to the system has its limitations. To overcome these shortcomings and to complement the CEN dataset, the WCO has undertaken a review of the Illicit Trade Report and its methodology. This is an ongoing process and work is still underway until a final product can be delivered next year. 

However, as part of this new methodology, the data and information sources used to elaborate this Report has been enlarged to include various open sources. These sources include official government media outlets, reports published online by Customs administrations and international organizations, and a survey elaborated by the WCO in order to collect additional data from its Members and from its Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs).

“The importance of comprehensive data analysis is indisputably a key component to support effective and efficient Customs enforcement activities”, says Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, WCO Secretary General. “The Illicit Trade Report is a pioneer in terms of data collection and analysis for over twenty years, and as a strong believer in the power of data and Customs digital transformation, I am pleased that we now have the in-house resources and technology to offer such in-depth analysis, further supported by open source information, and the most recent and intelligible data visualizations for this edition of the Report”.