ABU DHABI // Almost one in seven counterfeit items - including 73 per cent of fake medicines - seized at European borders last year was routed through the UAE, new figures show. A report by the European Commission Taxation and Customs Union revealed that the last port of call for 15 per cent of the 118 million articles seized in Europe was the UAE - more than any nation other than China.
The country was also the last port of call before arriving in Europe for almost three-quarters of counterfeit medical products. The number of fake medicines arriving via the UAE jumped from around 750,000 in 2008 to almost 5.5million in 2009. It was also the distribution point for a third of fake CDs and DVDs. Dubai Customs declined to comment on the latest report, but pointed out that last year it did not have the legal authority to inspect goods on ships that arrive in its port en route to another destination.
Federal Customs also declined to comment when asked about the report. David Boublil, a spokesman for the Taxation and Customs Union's Directorate General, said that it is impossible for customs officials to say with any certainty where in the world the goods were manufactured before arriving in the UAE. "We did not try to distinguish between countries of origin and countries of provenance this time," he said.
"It is very difficult to make the distinction because if the counterfeiters are ready to break one law, they may break another one and try to produce fake certificates." The previous report for 2008 also demonstrated that the UAE played a major role in the transportation of fake goods across the world. Most fake cigarettes (56 per cent), and 8 per cent of fake medicines, were transported from the Emirates in that year.
This contrasts to the most recent figures which revealed that 73 per cent of fake medicines came from the UAE and 16 per cent of fake tobacco products. The report noted, however, that "due to a more specific registration of product categories, it is difficult to make an exact comparison between 2009 and the years before. "One big shipment can make a significant difference," explained Mr Boublil. "That is often the main reason for variations [in numbers]."
Cigarettes account for 19 per cent of the overall amount, followed by other tobacco products such as cigars and cigarette papers (16 per cent), labels, tags and emblems (13 per cent) and medicines (10 per cent). The report stated: "As in previous years, more and more of the products detained by customs are for daily use, such as shampoos, toothpaste, toys and household appliances, and products potentially dangerous to health, such as food beverages and medicines."
The goods which are of most concern were those which posed a risk to health and safety such as medicines and consumables, Mr Boublil said. "In general, counterfeiting is very bad for innovation and very bad for bona fide business," he said. "In addition to that there is a risk to consumers. "Of course those which are risking health and safety should attract even more attention." UAE officials have been clamping down on fake goods in recent years. Dubai Customs seized a stash of seven million sexual stimulant and fertility tablets from a warehouse in the dry port in June.
The estimated value based on the average US$10 (Dh36.72) price for a Viagra pill was $70m (Dh257m). Ahmed Butti Ahmed, the general director of Dubai Customs, said at the time that the drugs came from an Arab country, but declined to name the country. Pfizer, the manufacturer of Viagra, said the haul was probably just the "tip of the iceberg". Counterfeit medicines were also under the spotlight in December when the Ministry of Health promised to increase the fight against them and forge better co-operation with other authorities. The ministry declined to comment on the latest report by the European Commission.
In its mission to halt illegal trading, the Commission has already created partnerships with countries including China and India. Mr Boublil said although there were no specific plans to deal directly with the UAE in a similar way, it was a possibility. "There are plans to extend co-operation with other countries, particularly with regards to the protection of intellectual property rights, and the UAE could be one of these countries."