By Helen Sloan
July 27 2012
The volume and value of counterfeit goods seized by EU Customs continues to rise, according to figures released by the European Commission this week. 115 million products were seized in 2011 (up from 103 million in 2010) and the value of the goods increased from €1.1 billion in 2010 to €1.3 billion last year.
Cigarettes were overtaken by pharmaceutical products as the number one category of products seized in 2011. Three categories dominated: medicines (24%), packaging material (21%) and cigarettes (18%). Products described as being for “daily use” that could be potentially dangerous to the health and safety of consumers – this includes body care, electronic goods and toys as well as medicines – saw a noted upturn, accounting for a total of 28.6% of the total amount compared to 14.5% in 2010. When last years figures were released, WTR noted an increase in smaller shipments being sent through the post: this trend has continued in 2011 and is attributed to consumers continuing to purchase counterfeit goods directly over the internet.
China was the source country for 73% of the goods seized; however, some less predictable jurisdictions were also highlighted in the press release: “For certain product categories other countries remain the main sources such as Turkey for foodstuffs, Panama for alcoholic drinks, Thailand for soft drinks”. This may give the impression that Panama is a hotbed for illicit alcohol production, however, details in the full report reveal that the volume of seizures in these categories was low. For example, only eight cases of alcohol and two of non-alcoholic beverages were seized in total (compared, for example, to over 2,000 cases for watches and 12,000 for clothing). This small amount of alcohol seized seems surprising, particularly given that the increased availability of fake alcohol was a high-profile story in the UK during 2011.
The overall report revealed no great shocks for Olivier Vrins, partner at Altius in Brussels. “The trends remain the same,” he says. “Counterfeiting affects not only luxury goods, but also pharmaceuticals products, foodstuffs, drinks and electric equipment; but there is no dramatic trend.” That cigarettes remain a major target for counterfeiters is expected: Vrins reports that Belgium destroyed 151 million counterfeit cigarettes recently in one of the biggest ever seizures of tobacco products worldwide. The increase in pharmaceutical products being counterfeited is also a trend that Vrins has noted. However, he agrees that the low level of alcohol seizures in 2011 is “very, very surprising indeed,” as Altius sees a lot of issues with fake alcoholic products, particularly in its work regarding geographical indication.
Vrins also raised some concerns about how precise the statistics compiled by the member states are. “The commission only receives the statistics from the member states and has little control on the manner in which these statistics are compiled,” he says. Considerable improvements have been made, however, since the days when some jurisdictions counted individual cigarettes seized, while others were counting packs. “Some criteria have been imposed, but there are still some disparities between the member states in the way the statistics are being compiled and the precision with which the type of goods are being classified.”
These discrepancies illustrate the difficulty in establishing any hard and fast facts regarding the scale of the counterfeiting industry worldwide. However, these annual figures nevertheless act as an interesting insight into the work of the EU Customs.
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