Chinese companies are turning to online sales to supply the fentanyl precursor market in Mexico, just as more criminal groups are seeking to enter the lucrative synthetic drugs business.

In December 2021, the US government imposed sanctions on four Chinese companies accused of selling precursor chemicals used for fentanyl production. The most prominent among them was Hebei Atun Trading, which sells these products on its webpage under Mexico Hot Sell, Milenio reports.

However, the company is not the first to venture into online sales. In 2021, 64 other companies were identified as committing the same crime.

Traffickers in China resort to the simplest methods of sale. They have WhatsApp and Skype accounts where their customers can easily contact them and get all the information to acquire their products.

On the other side of the Pacific, in Mexico, buyers are primarily Mexican cartels. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel ((Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel fight to control opioid trafficking to the United States.

SEE ALSO: Impact of Illicit Fentanyl Felt on Both Sides of US-Mexico Border.

In China, US authorities have set their sights on characters such as Chuen Fat Yip, the head of Wuhan Yuancheng Gongchuang Technology, another one of the sanctioned businesses.

According to a press release issued by the US Department of Justice, Fat Yip is accused of being one of most prominent international fentanyl traffickers. His involvement ranges from the manufacture, production and distribution of fentanyl and precursors, to online sales.

Chuen is a perfect example of how the Chinese are monopolizing fentanyl production. And the online sale of precursors could not happen at a worse time.

Fentanyl’s impact in Mexico and the United States has positioned it as the number one threat on the drug market. Between April 2020 and April 2021 alone, fentanyl killed nearly 100,000 people in the United States.

InSight Crime Analysis

Internet sales of chemical precursors are not new but the increased use of such channels may help a wider range of grroups to enter this criminal economy.

For example, Zacatecas, a central Mexican state, which is an important drug trafficking hotspot on the road to the US border, has seen fentanyl laboratories multiply. 

In turn, this has increased the number of players involved in the trade. Besides the Sinaloa Cartel and the CJNG, the Gulf Cartel, the Old School Zetas (Zetas Vieja Escuela) and another Zeta splinter group, the Talibanes, are all contesting fentanyl production and distribution routes.  

And while the United States has focused on interdicting fentanyl at border crossings or at ports such as Manzanillo, Chinese suppliers have adapted easily. 

SEE ALSO: Fentanyl Case Shows China’s Scary Ability to Adapt

At first, Chinese traffickers produced and sold fentanyl directly from China to Mexican criminal groups. However, since 2019 when China banned the sale of fentanyl and cracked down hard on producers, the sales of chemical precursors have exploded. 

In the early part of the pandemic, Chinese ports closed, bringing global trade to a standstill. Cartels had to adapt and find other suppliers who often provided different chemicals. The Sinaloa Cartel even looked as far as India

Once the ports reopened, this diversification of precursors has only improved the variety of synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, and has only increased the chance traffickers have to get their product to customers.