Colombia, U.S. seek to halve cocaine output in five years

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BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia and the United States agreed on Thursday to work together to reduce by half the production of cocaine, and cultivation of its raw material coca in the South American nation within five years.

Coca leaf, which is turned into cocaine using various chemicals and fertilizers, covered 188,000 hectares of Colombia at the end of 2016, while potential production of cocaine reached 910 metric tons, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

“This effort includes the national implementation of a comprehensive anti-narcotics strategy that aims to reduce estimated cocaine production and coca cultivation by 50 percent by 2023,” U.S. Under Secretary of Political Affairs Thomas Shannon said at the end of a meeting with Colombia’s foreign minister.

Details were not provided on how they would achieve the reduction.

Colombia is one of the leading producers and traffickers of cocaine. The United States is the main consumer of Colombian cocaine and provides military and economic aid to fight the illegal drugs industry.

Between 2000 and 2015, Colombia received about $10 billion for military and social programs. The U.S. government now provides about $400 million annually to Colombia.

Colombia’s Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said she appreciated support from the United States over the years.

“On the issue of security and the fight against a world drug problem, we continue to unite, and we know that by working together we can one day make Colombia a drug-free country,” she said in a statement.

Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta, Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman