Fake food and alcohol seizures at EU borders jump

By Joseph James Whitworth

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags European union

Customs authorities detained more than 41 million fake and counterfeit products at the EU's external border in 2016 with a value of more than €670m.

Everyday products potentially dangerous to health and safety – such as food and drink, medicines, toys and household electrical items - accounted for more than a third of all intercepted goods. 

Cigarettes were the top category (24%) for articles detained and toys the second largest group (17%), followed by foodstuffs (13%) and packaging material (12%).

Estimates of the value of trade in counterfeit products worldwide vary between €600bn (UN) and close to €1tn (other international statistics).

Product and provenance

The number of intercepted articles rose by 2% compared to 2015.

Foodstuff and alcoholic beverages were among the categories with the highest increases​ (>50%) compared to 2015.

In terms of provenance of fake goods, 80% of articles came from China in 2016. The country was the highest source of fake foodstuffs (94.16%).

Singapore was the top source (89.29%) for counterfeit alcoholic beverages and India for counterfeit medicines.

Bulgaria led the way for other beverages (81.25%), followed by Nigeria (15.52%) and China (3.23%).

Counterfeit certification labels, such as fake organic or protected designation of origin​ (PDO) labels, continues to be a major problem for the European food industry, according to Europol. 

The agency said industry saw a growth in 2015 in the abuse of ‘organic’ labels on products that did not comply with the organic certification but had higher retail prices.

With regard to suspicion of plant variety right infringements (CPVR) at EU borders last year, the involved products were namely fruit.

In more than 90% of detentions, goods were either destroyed or a court case was started to determine an infringement or as part of criminal procedures.

For the number of articles, 15% were found to be original goods.

IPR protection

Pierre Moscovici, commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, said a high level of protection of intellectual property is crucial to support growth and create jobs.

“Fake goods pose a real threat to health and safety of EU consumers and also undermine legal businesses and state revenues. Studies show that the EU is particularly exposed to imports of counterfeit products.” 

Moscovici also paid tribute to customs authorities who combat the fake goods.

They need support and resources to enable them to protect us all from the dangers that they can pose. Cooperation between law enforcement authorities should be strengthened and risk management systems upgraded to protect the EU from goods infringing on intellectual property rights."

The report on actions to enforce intellectual property rights (IPR) is based on data from Member States' customs administrations sent to the European Commission.

It provides information which supports analysis of IPR infringements and helps institutions such as the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the OECD to map the most common routes for counterfeiters.

For the European Union, the OECD estimates that up to 5% or €85bn of imported goods are counterfeit or pirated, causing the loss of roughly 800,000 jobs.

EESC call to boost anti-counterfeiting measures

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) called on EU and Member States to support affected SMEs and industries by updating, harmonising and strengthening the regulatory framework.

The EESC wants a new EU framework for 2018-2021 including a financed action plan to strengthen anti-counterfeiting legislation and initiatives.

Countries whose businesses were most affected by counterfeiting between 2011-13 are the US (20%), Italy (15%), France and Switzerland (12%), Japan and Germany (8%).

"If we do not act now, we risk multilateral problems such as failure in research, innovation and investment, damage to image and quality, risks to health, safety and the environment, loss of fiscal and para-fiscal revenues, and failure to tackle organised crime,​ said Antonello Pezzini, rapporteur of the EESC opinion​ on ‘The counterfeit and pirated products industry’​, adopted at its July plenary.

Both the fragmented and variable nature of national implementation of EU rules and standards and the differences in the effectiveness of customs controls play into the hands of counterfeiters and facilitate the entry of fake products into the EU.

“It is in the interest of Europe's whole economy and industry to maintain their good reputation and consequently fight all fraud.”

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