Pacific drug trade a 'significant' part of Jacinda Ardern's talks with Fijian PM Frank Bainimarama

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed that cracking down on drug trade routes through the Pacific was a "significant" part of talks with her Fijian counterpart Frank Bainimarama.

"I would consider that to have been a significant part of our conversation," the Prime Minister told reporters in Fiji on Tuesday. "This is an issue that is impacting the region significantly."

An increase in multibillion-dollar drug operations involving A-class substances like cocaine and methamphetamine moving through the Pacific has been reported by global news agencies in the past year.

In a report by Kate Lyons for The Guardian, she said countries like Fiji, Tonga and New Caledonia are "caught in the middle", with security analysts telling her the use of the Pacific route for drug transportation has increased dramatically.

"If we see markets grow in different parts of the Pacific, then you of course then see different transit routes through the Pacific," Ardern said. "Then there's the human cost."

As Lyons writes, "meth and cocaine are packed into boats in Latin America and the US and sailed to Australia and New Zealand to feed the countries' lucrative drug habits, leaving a trail of addiction and violence in the Pacific nations they pass through."

Ardern said she "spoke at length" with her Fijian counterpart Bainimarama about the impact the drug trade was having on the community in Fiji, adding that she "already knows the impacts in New Zealand".

In a joint statement, Ardern and Bainimarama said they "committed to continuing New Zealand and Fiji's joint efforts to combat common security challenges".

The statement reads, "They acknowledged the success of the bilateral defence partnership programme since it was launched last year.

"They also welcomed the expansion of security cooperation into policing, with the launch of a new programme to lift the capability of the Fiji Police Force and enhance the countries' work to address the threat that transnational organised crime poses to communities in both New Zealand and Fiji."

The Government will be investing $11 million over three years into the programme which aims to enhance the capability of the Fijian Police while helping to disrupt drug trafficking in the region.

Tevita Tupou, operations manager for the Oceania Customs Organisation, told The Guardian in July 2019 that smaller nations in the Pacific are starting to see increased cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.

"Whereas initially they considered it predominantly a problem for Australia and New Zealand, and they were merely transit points, at the end there they were starting to see a significant increase in their domestic use."

It comes as the National Drug Intelligence Bureau says it has seen a huge increase in illicit drugs seized at the border, and it has been linked to international organised crime groups.

Almost 500kg of meth was seized coming into New Zealand in September, in Customs' largest-ever seizure of drugs at the border.

The drugs were hidden inside a shipment of electric motors that arrived at the Port of Auckland from Thailand in mid-August, a spokesperson for Customs said at the time.

In May 2019, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents said New Zealand is the "best market" in world for meth and coke - and that it's attracting major attention from cartels.

More than three tonnes of illegal drugs were seized at New Zealand's border in 2019, Customs Minister Jenny Salesa revealed earlier this month.

As well as the drug trade, Ardern and Bainimarama discussed business links, with two-way trade having surpassed NZ$1 billion.

They also talked about social wellbeing and health challenges, including the impact of natural disasters, non-communicable diseases, and gender-based violence.