The New Zealand Customs Service (NZCS) is a strong advocate for enhancing both regional security and economic growth in the Pacific through regular engagement and capacity building with counterpart agencies in the Region. The Pacific region has become a significant transit point for drugs, driven by the growing threat of transnational organised crime and the rising demand and high prices for drugs in New Zealand and Australia.

NZCS Director International, Joe Cannon, says that since 2011, the agency has managed the Customs Sector Development Programme in the Pacific, which is funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT).

“New Zealand’s location, people-to-people connections and strong trade and travel links means that it is vulnerable to risks arising from and through the Region. Illicit drug seizures at the New Zealand border show that volumes are increasing, and criminals are using increasingly sophisticated techniques to smuggle harmful drugs into communities for profit.

Our goal is to assist Pacific administrations develop effective border management systems that will enhance the ability to detect and disrupt organised crime activities, while facilitating legitimate trade and travel. We can help to disrupt drug smuggling closer to the source, which ultimately also reduces harm from reaching New Zealand’s communities.

This programme has forged enduring partnerships with Customs administrations in the Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji, and Vanuatu, as well as other countries which we provide support to through our regional assistance programme such as Niue, and Tonga. The programme builds on other work we support in the Region including the Pacific Dog Detector Programme and Pacific Transnational Crime Network.

Training opportunities, knowledge-sharing and capability building help Customs agencies to learn and gain experience and expertise, enhancing our collective ability to stay one step ahead of transnational organised crime groups. By helping to protect each other’s borders, we are strengthening our own border too,” says Mr Cannon.

RECENT HIGHLIGHTS

Drug identification training

NZCS is a Member of the regional Customs body, Oceania Customs Organisation (OCO), and supports the capacity building initiatives of New Zealand’s Pacific partners.

In December 2023, frontline Customs officers and officials from 18 Pacific nations were welcomed to New Zealand for a week-long training and visit focused on illicit drug smuggling. The training was co-hosted with the OCO.

The aim of the training was to provide participants with enhanced skillsets in detecting, identifying and handling drugs, as well as training on relevant legislation and further insight into NZCS operations.

Developing Pacific leaders

The Pacific Leadership Programme is a nine-month programme, which aims to increase leadership and management capability in Pacific border agencies through a combination of practical and interactive learning initiatives. The most recent cohort graduated in December 2023, which included 14 staff from Vanuatu Customs and Inland Revenue, and 11 staff from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Service.