Exclusive: On eve of India trip, US Drug Czar Gupta reflects on implications of US-China fentanyl agreement

Dr. Rahul Gupta during an exclusive interview with News India Times, on November 16, 2023, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, Dr. Rahul Gupta expressed optimism about the revival of the US-China bilateral cooperation, especially in the fight against fentanyl. In an exclusive interview with News India Times at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, November 16, 2023, Gupta said he would be discussing illicit drug industries and traffickers in his upcoming visit to India.

Dr. Gupta will be meeting top officials at the Ministry of Health, Directorate of Revenue Enforcement, and Narcotics Control Bureau next week in India, to outline strategies on curbing the flow of not just illicit Fentanyl, but also other precursors in the supply chain.

“From day one, President Biden has been focused on whole-of-government approach, understanding the seriousness it poses to the lives of Americans and people all across the world,” Gupta said while welcoming the Biden-Xi talks held Nov. 15, in San Francisco on the sidelines of the APEC Summit. “He (Biden) has also declared international drug trafficking of Fentanyl and other synthetic drugs as a threat to our national security.”

“It was an important priority for not only President Biden, on behalf of the United States, but for the world to ensure that we begin that conversation,” Gupta said, noting that it drives US efforts with the global coalition of more than 120 countries including India, and international organizations, to combat this scourge.

While in India Dr. Gupta will engage in discussions with his Indian counterparts to restrict movements by criminal agents from China, particularly those associated with Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs), entering India. He also intends to emphasize the importance of being vigilant to prevent the legitimate licit pharmaceutical industry from being infiltrated by illicit industry as it had happened in China.

“So, we’re going through a very important inflection point,” noted Dr. Gupta adding that with China taking a stand, “It is going to be even more important now for India to step up its efforts and accelerate those efforts to ensure strict regulations are in place.”

Because both US and India are democracies where the rule of law prevails, “it is important that illicit commerce is prevented first as well as the current threats addressed…”

Both countries need to significantly increase the commitment and collaboration to uphold integrity in the worldwide supply chain of pharmaceuticals and the chemical industry, he said.

Washington and New Delhi are working on ongoing bilateral agreements including the 21st Century Drug Policy Framework, in which “President Biden and Prime Minister Modi committed to work toward a broader and deeper bilateral drug policy framework for the 21st century… to disrupt the illicit production and international trafficking of illicit drugs, including synthetic drugs, such as Fentanyl,” he noted.

According to Gupta, the US also sees India as a partner and a global leader on the Global Coalition to Address Against Synthetic Drug Threats.

Additionally, both countries have military-to-military cooperation, and good working relationships between the Counter Narcotics Working Groups.

“Both sides must work more because it’s not only a matter of two countries, but a matter of the entire world… that’s why we’re really glad to see China wants to do that, but it also makes it more important for our partnership with India,” he added.

Dr. Gupta noted that China has already issued notifications to its chemical industries and is implementing stringent regulations. In previous instances, where China undertook comparable measures, the influx of Fentanyl shipments to US significantly decreased. Typically, China refrains from disclosing shipping trafficking information to the International Narcotics Control Board, but it has recently done so, with over 145 incidents logged in. This indicates, China’s willingness to collaborate with the global community in combating the menace of precursor shipments.

The US has been urging China to implement protocols like “Know Your Customer” while shipping large dual-use precursors to prevent shipments ending up in possession of cartels and TCOs. Additionally, the US has made requests for China to ensure proper shipping labels of chemicals, especially those with risks of explosion, as well as tracking the volume of chemicals being shipped globally.

Addressing the flow of illicit drugs from Mexico, Dr. Gupta said that the United States has been working with Mexican President Andrés Lopez Obrador and his administration, including budgeting for drug detection technology.

“So we can begin the work of ensuring that all of those drugs that are coming northwards can be interdicted while doing this work with Mexico, China, India, Colombia and our partner nations.”



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