UN: Southern route for European cocaine to become dominant

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UN: Southern route for European cocaine to become dominant

The latest UN report on the global cocaine trade states that Rotterdam and Antwerp are now by far the most important European gateway for cocaine. Spain, which used to be the most important, has been beaten back a long way, according to the UNODC in the Global Report on Cocaine 2023. At the same time, the supply from the south of South America (the “Cono Sur”) for Europe is becoming dominant.

Record height

The hard figures on world cocaine production will be released in 2020, but various indicators indicate that the production of cocaine in the world is currently rising to a record high again. For 2020, the total production in the world is estimated at just under 2000 tons. That will be much more this year and last year.

There are two reasons for assuming this. First, cocaine seizures in 2021 and 2022 in Europe alone are approaching 2,000 tons. And secondly, the number of hectares planted with coca bushes in Colombia has increased very sharply in recent years. More coca leaf almost certainly means more cocaine on the market.

Looking for connection

In previous reports, the UN has already written about the increasing importance of the flow of cocaine coming from the south of Peru (and to a lesser extent Bolivia). That cocaine is shipped in Brazil, or goes via Paraguay, over the Rio Paraná and Rio de la Plata to the container ports of Argentina and Uruguay.

What is new now is that the UN thinks that the increased flow of cocaine to Rotterdam and Antwerp is getting a strong impulse from that smuggling from the “Cono Sur”. The smugglers have sought to join the very large flow of goods that departs by container from the southern ports in South America to the low countries. This flow is greater than the volume of trade from Colombia and the Caribbean to Europe.

Purity of cocaine

The market in Europe is in a process of consolidation, according to the UN. The UNODC uses indicators such as the price and purity of the cocaine on the street to reach this conclusion. Both have grown in recent years in Europe to the level of those in the United States and are now about equal. The price is even lower in some European countries. Only the use of cocaine in Europe lags behind that in the US. But in both parts of the world that is no longer growing strongly.


The role of Africa as a transit port for transhipment to Europe and Asia is growing, according to the UN.

The UNODC warns in the report that if cocaine use in Asian countries reaches the same level as in the United States and Europe, the world market for cocaine could grow at an unprecedented rate.

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