The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is joining forces with China to help customs officials in the Asia Pacific region to prevent the smuggling of banned chemicals and endangered species. "Customs are in the frontline, expected to maximize the benefits society can derive from the globalized trading system while also expected to minimize the risks and threats that trade can pose -- threats from illegal trade in banned or restricted chemicals up to managing movements of living modified organisms and the illegal trade in rare and endangered wildlife," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner told a workshop being held this week at the Shanghai Customs College. He said China, with some 50,000 customs officials and an increasingly important role in international trade and global political life, could make a key contribution in this field. Environmental crime and illegal trade is, by some estimates, valued at tens of billion if not well over 100 billion dollars a year, UNEP said in a news release. A wide range of chemicals, including persistent organic pollutants and substances that deplete the ozone layer, are now controlled, banned or subject to phase outs under multilateral environmental agreements. These measures are aimed at protecting public health and the wider environment but also present opportunities for unscrupulous individuals and organized crime, UNEP said. Meanwhile treaties such as the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), cover trade in wildlife as part of a range of international measures to allow legitimate trade in animals and plants and restrict or outlaw trade in species under threat. Mr. Steiner said it was impressive that a treaty like CITES had, over the decades, become as relevant to customs officials work as tackling illegal trade in arms, drugs and trafficking in humans. The four-day Shanghai workshop, involving UNEP, secretariats of the Multilateral Environme the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and Interpol, aims to 'train the trainers' from regional customs agencies.