Illicit trade is a universal threat that grows in scope and magnitude. There are many flows of illicit trade, including human trafficking, arms smuggling, illegal trade in natural resources, intellectual property infringements, trade in substances that cause health and safety risks, smuggling of excisable goods, trade in illegal drugs, and a variety of illicit financial flows. All of them pose critical threats to economic stability, social welfare, and public safety.

In recent years, the OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade has been gathering evidence on various aspects of this trade and the factors that enable it. The results have been published in a set of factual reports, including Governance Frameworks to Counter Illicit Trade (2017), Why do Countries Export Fakes (2019) and Global Trade in Fakes: A Worrying Threat (2021). All of these reports highlight governance frameworks as an important enabler of illicit trade. This is particularly the case for economies that suffer from armed conflict.

To contribute to the existing pool of evidence on the dynamic interplay between illicit trade and armed conflict, this paper looks at illicit trade flows in four separate conflict-affected countries in the MENA region: Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. All of these countries have been involved to varying degrees in illicit trade flows.

This report presents a rigorous review of existing evidence and uses a tailored statistical methodology to gauge the trends in illicit trade in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Iraq, with a particular focus on Yemen. Such analysis is critical, not only for a better understanding of this threat in the context of armed conflict, but also for developing effective governance responses to support post-COVID recovery.

The results are a cause for concern. In all four analysed economies conflicts have resulted in the expansion of many areas of illicit trade, such as narcotics, human trafficking, wildlife trafficking, illicit trade in cultural artefacts and counterfeits. In addition, the increased inflows of weapons, ammunition, and other forms of military equipment from regional actors added to the already significant illicit weapons flows.

This study was carried out under the auspices of the OECD’s Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade, which focuses on evidence-based research and advanced analytics to assist policy makers in mapping and understanding the vulnerabilities exploited by illicit trade.


This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area.

The statistical data for Israel are supplied by and under the responsibility of the relevant Israeli authorities. The use of such data by the OECD is without prejudice to the status of the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank under the terms of international law.

Note by Turkey
The information in this document with reference to “Cyprus” relates to the southern part of the Island. There is no single authority representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriot people on the Island. Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Until a lasting and equitable solution is found within the context of the United Nations, Turkey shall preserve its position concerning the “Cyprus issue”.

Note by all the European Union Member States of the OECD and the European Union
The Republic of Cyprus is recognised by all members of the United Nations with the exception of Turkey. The information in this document relates to the area under the effective control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus.

Photo credits: Cover © Vladimir Melnik/

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